2.5.2 Design Study - Outdoor Play Spaces

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The study highlights how the Accessibility Standard for the Design of Public Spaces (the Standard) applies to the design of an outdoor play space.


The Zonta accessible playground (ZAP) was developed in 2001 by the Zonta Club of Mississauga, with funding from various sources. The ZAP is operated and maintained by the City of Mississauga. The project is described on the Zonta website as:

“ … (an) innovative barrier-free play space invites people of all ages and abilities to play and explore together, in a public park. Find us on a map. Designed as “A River of the Senses” its many ‘islands’ offer distinct play areas that stimulate the senses including touch, scent, sight and hearing.”

Although designed and constructed well before the Standard was implemented, the playground incorporates all of the elements required by the Standard and is an excellent example of best practice in accessible playground design.

Classification Considerations within the Standard:

If the ZAP were to be developed today, the following would need to be considered:

Although the Zonta Club of Mississauga was responsible for designing that playground and assembling the project funding, the City of Mississauga was the organization responsible for providing the land, as well as constructing and maintaining the playground. Therefore, the City is the organization that is obligated to ensure that the playground is designed, constructed and maintained in compliance with the Standard. Mississauga is categorized within the Standard as a designated public sector organization. Playgrounds developed by large designated public sector organizations must be designed in compliance with the Standard.

The Standard requires that outdoor play spaces developed and maintained by designated public sector organizations are required to meet the requirements of the Standard if the development contract was signed after December 31, 2012 and the project will be substantially complete after January 1, 2016. Refer to Section 1.7 for further information on compliance deadlines for different types of organizations.

Similarly, as part of the Standard requirements, Mississauga would be required to consult with the public, people with disabilities and its accessibility advisory committee on the needs of children and their caregivers with a variety of disabilities. The consultation process must address requirements for accessible play elements for children and caregivers with various disabilities including, but not limited to, sensory and active play components. Refer to Section 1.9 for further information on public consultation with people with disabilities.

Design Strategy:

The philosophy guiding the development of the playground, as described by Carol Hennigar former Zonta Club director and occupational therapist, was;

“We are taking a universal design approach, focusing not just on accessibility but on integration. You have to get creative in understanding how kids play. If we create a space where they can all play together, integration will naturally occur. Many so-called ‘accessible playgrounds’ do not foster interaction of able & disabled children, rather they have isolated components which may be accessible. We need to change this.”

The playground is designed as a series of activity areas (identified as islands), addressing the diverse needs of all children, including children with disabilities. Accessible routes are provided throughout, allowing children and their caregivers to access, enter and move throughout all of the activity areas. The following activity areas are provided:

Adventure Island provides numerous opportunities for gross motor play, including swings, within areas that are fully accessible for children using wheelchairs and other mobility aids. A rubberized play surface is used at the climbing structures and bark chip surfacing at the swing area.

Sound Island provides a mixture of play elements which create sounds including wind chimes, hanging and hammer chime panels, vertical poles that make a variety of sounds when twisted, and ‘Talking Bobs’ (by turning the Bob’s nose, children can record their voice then play it back in an altered tone). Accessible paths of travel are provided to all play elements within the sound island.

Touch Island provides children with an opportunity to play and explore the environment using tactile elements. Features include a mosaic wall, Braille play panels, textured shapes and objects cast into floor and wall surfaces, elevated sand and water tables, a sand pit with mechanical diggers, and a water pump to control flow along a play trough. Accessible paths of travel are provided to all play elements within the touch island.

Imagination Island allows children of all abilities to perform. A small stage is provided with a child-scaled proscenium arch to enhance the performance experience. The stage area is fully accessible for children who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, as are the seating audience areas. Seating rocks are provided, along with spaces for wheelchairs. A resilient ground surface is used throughout the audience area. Poured concrete is used for the stage and access routes to the stage.

Scent Island is planted with a variety of plants and shrubs to allow children of all abilities to enjoy the smells of nature. Plants are chosen to grow tall enough to be enjoyed without bending down. Play elements include big bold ‘flowers’ and butterfly sculptures which can also be explored through touch and smell. Accessible paths of travel are provided to all play elements within the scent island.

Sight Island provides opportunities for children to explore colour, light and shadow. Features include the ‘human sundial’, shadow-casting patterns from arbours and vines onto a textured walkway, as well as tress, wood sculptures, and birdhouses. Accessible paths of travel are provided to all play elements within the sight island.

Mother Nature’s Island is a naturalized area planted with native plant species, encouraging use by native birds and animals, enhancing sensory experiences for all.

Circle of Friends is located in the centre of the playground, providing children a place to sit alone, or with friends. The central location allows children to enjoy watching the activities in the various activity areas throughout the playground. Fixed seating elements are provided along with plenty of space for children with wheelchairs to sit with their friends.

The Zonta accessible playground can be enjoyed at Zonta Meadows Park, 410 Rathburn Road West, Mississauga, Ontario.


Illustrated Technical Guide to the Design of Public Spaces