Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Playground Accessibility

I recently took my niece to play at a newly constructed elementary school playground. I noticed that much of the engineered wood fiber (EWF) had been kicked out of the areas below the swings, climbing equipment and slides. The EWF seemed fluffy” and not at all compacted. As I crossed the drifts and ruts in the playground’s surface, I was glad I was wearing sturdy laced athletic shoes. 

While watching my niece, I sat on a bench and visited with a mother whose 9 year old son who was seated next to her in a wheel chair. While we talked, she kept an eye on her 7 year old son and his friend who were running across the ramps of the colorful playground structure. She told me that she wished her 9 year old  could also enjoy the playground, but that despite his good upper body strength, he cannot wheel his chair across the wood chip surface without becoming stuck after a few feet. She said that she can no longer carry him to the swings, or take his wheelchair to the ramp of the playground structure, then carry him to his wheelchair. I explained to her that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that school playground surfaces be accessible to children who use wheelchairs and the adults who supervise them.  I further explained that a complaint could be filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights or the U.S. Department of Justice Disability Rights Section to enforce her son’s right to an accessible playground surface.

Here’s a quick explanation of the ADA law that applies to school playground surfaces, and some information about how find out about the installation and maintenance required in order for a particular EWF playground surface to be “ADA compliant.”

Applicable Law

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a statute that prohibits nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by state and local entities including public schools.  It provides that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity. 

The ADA’s implementing regulations require each newly constructed or altered facility to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. State and local government facilities must follow the requirements of the 2010 Accessible Design Standards. 

A school playground that has been altered or newly constructed on or after March 15, 2012, must comply with sections 1008.2.6.1 and 1008.2.6.2 of the 2010 Accessible Design Standards.

1.  Section 1008.2.6.1 of the 2010 Standards addresses access for children with mobility disabilities and for adults who cross the playground to supervise children. It requires the playground ground surface to comply with ASTM F 1951 at the time of installation and throughout the life of the playground. The playground surface under and around play equipment must also comply with ASTM F 1292. 

2.  Section 1008.2.6.2 requires that playground surfaces comply with the shock-absorption standards set out in ASTM F 1292 from the time of installation throughout the life of the playground, and requires a school district to close any noncompliant playground until it is brought into compliance.

How to find out what is required in order for an EWF playground surface to be “ADA compliant?”

1.  Obtain from the school district the name. manufacturer and vendor of the EWF product used on the playground. 

2.  Go to the website of the manufacturer or vendor and download the ASTM lab test reports for the product. Sometimes these are called “wheelchair” and “head impact” reports.

3.  Read the lab test report to find out the conditions under which the EWF was tested and passed its tests for accessibility and "impact attentuation" (shock absorption).  The product must be installed and maintained in accordance with those conditions in order to comply with ASTM F1292 and F1951.  

Note:  All of the EWF product lab reports I have read state that the product complies with ASTM F 1292 and ASTM F 1951 only if it is installed in four inch layers and compacted between each layer until a 12 inch compacted depth is achieved.  

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