Section-by-Section Analysis

The specific provisions of the play area guidelines and the comments received on each provision are discussed below.

3.5 Definitions

Definitions are added to ADAAG 3.5 (Definitions) for the following terms used in the play area guidelines: amusement attraction, elevated play component, ground level play component, play area, play component, soft contained play structure, and use zone. Several of the definitions are revised in the final rule for clarity.

Comment. Commenters questioned the reference to the ASTM F 1487-95 standard in the definition of "play area" in the NPRM. The ASTM standard is a voluntary safety standard for public playground equipment. Commenters questioned whether the play area guidelines would apply if a play area was not designed and constructed in accordance with the ASTM standard.

Response. The reference to the ASTM F 1487-95 standard has been removed from the definition of "play area" in the final rule.

Comment. Designers and operators requested clarification of the definition of "play component" and how to distinguish between ground level and elevated play components.

Response. The definition of "elevated play component" has been modified in the final rule to include the definition of a composite play structure. Appendix notes (A15.6.2 and A15.6.3) have been added to provide guidance on how to distinguish between ground level and elevated play components.

15.6 Play Areas

In the NPRM, the play area guidelines were proposed to be a separate special application section numbered ADAAG 16. In the final rule, the play area guidelines are included in the special application section reserved for recreation facilities and are numbered ADAAG 15.6. (24) The guidelines have been edited and reorganized for clarity. Appendix notes have been added to provide guidance on the guidelines. The appendix notes are advisory only.

15.6.1 General

The play area guidelines apply to play areas designed and constructed for children ages two and over. Where separate play areas are provided within a site for specified age groups (e.g., preschool (ages 2 to 5) and school age ( ages 5 to 12)), each play area must comply with the guidelines. Where play areas are designed or constructed in phases, the guidelines are to be applied so that when each successive addition is completed, the entire play area complies with all the applicable provisions of the guidelines.

Comment. Commenters requested clarification regarding how to apply the guidelines where separate play areas are provided within a site for different age groups.

Response. As noted above, the section has been revised in the final rule to clarify that each play area within a site provided for specified age groups must comply with the guidelines.

Comment. Commenters representing children with disabilities were concerned that the guidelines do not apply to play areas for children under age two.

Response. There is not sufficient information to develop guidelines for play areas for children under age two. Although there are no guidelines for play areas for children under age two, operators of those play areas are subject to all the other requirements of the ADA, including the obligation to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the goods and services provided by their facilities.

15.6.1 Exception 1

Exception 1 is further discussed under General Issues. The exception exempts play areas located in family child care facilities where the proprietor actually resides from the play area guidelines. Family child care facilities must still comply with all the other requirements of the ADA, including the general obligation to provide equal opportunity to individuals with disabilities to enjoy the services of their facilities and to remove architectural barriers in existing facilities where it is readily achievable (i.e., easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense). (25)

15.6.1 Exception 2

Exception 2 permits operators to relocate play components in existing play areas for the purpose of creating safe use zones. Where the ground surface is not changed or extended for more than one use zone, the guidelines do not apply.

Comment. A commenter questioned whether this exception applies when more than one play component is moved. To create safe use zones, usually more than one play component must be moved.

Response. Exception 2 applies regardless of the number of play components moved, provided that the surface is not changed or extended for more than one use zone for each play component moved.

15.6.1 Exception 3

Exception 3 is further discussed under General Issues. The exception provides that where play components are altered and the ground surface is not altered, the ground surface is not required to comply with the guidelines, unless required by ADAAG 4.1.6(2) (Alterations to an Area Containing a Primary Function).

15.6.1 Exception 4

Exception 4 is further discussed under General Issues. The exception exempts amusement attractions in amusement parks and theme parks from the play area guidelines, except the provisions for soft contained play structures. The exception is limited and applies to amusement attractions such as fun houses and barrels. If an amusement park or theme park has an eating place or picnic area that provides commonly used playground equipment, the playground equipment is not considered an amusement attraction and must comply with 15.6. Amusement attractions are not exempt from the other provisions of ADAAG. Operators of amusement parks and theme parks are still subject to the other requirements of the ADA, including the general obligation to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the goods and services provided by their facilities.

15.6.1 Exception 5

Exception 5 exempts play areas from complying with the provisions for protruding objects in ADAAG 4.4 (Protruding Objects). ADAAG 4.4 generally prohibits protrusions along circulation paths from projecting more than 4 inches, if the leading edge is above 27 inches and below 80 inches. ADAAG 4.4 also requires a minimum head clearance of 80 inches. No comments were received on this exception.

15.6.1 Exception 6

Exception 6 has been added to the final rule in response to comments from manufacturers who requested clarification regarding whether ADAAG 4.9 (Stairs) applies to composite play structures. The exception provides that stairs are not required to comply with ADAAG 4.9 since ramps and transfer systems are used to provide access to elevated play components. The exception also eliminates any potential conflicts between the technical provisions for stairs and transfer systems.

15.6.2 Ground Level Play Components

This section contains the scoping provisions for ground level play components. Ground level play components provided to comply with 15.6.2.1 are permitted to satisfy the number required by 15.6.2.2, if the minimum required types of play components are provided. Where more than one ground level play component is required by 15.6.2.1 and 15.6.2.2, the play components must be integrated in the play area.

Comment. A parent of a child with a hearing impairment who has a cochlear implant commented that some play equipment materials such as plastic slides generate static electricity when children move across the surfaces. The static electricity can damage cochlear implants and result in the need to replace them surgically. The commenter recommended that 50 percent of play components be metal.

Response. Consistent with the rest of ADAAG, the play area guidelines do not specify the materials to be used in play components. Designers and operators specify materials giving consideration to maintenance, climate, use, cost, and other factors. Manufacturers often add substances to plastics to reduce static electricity. The additives may lose their effectiveness over time in the outdoor environment or compromise the strength of the plastic. The type of clothing worn by a child and the humidity also may affect whether static electricity is generated by plastics. Some operators specify stainless steel slides to prevent or reduce vandalism. However, stainless steel slides are not widely used in warmer climates due to the potential for skin burns.

Comment. Commenters requested clarification regarding how to apply the provision that ground level play components required by 15.6.2.1 and 15.6.2.2 must be integrated. They provided examples where passive play components, such as activity panels, are separated from more active play components, such as swings, to ensure safety, and asked whether this type of separation would be considered integrated.

Response. The intent of this provision is to ensure that ground level play components which can be accessed by children with disabilities are integrated with other ground level play components. Grouping all ground level play components that can be accessed by children with disabilities in one part of the play area would not be considered integrated. Where certain types of ground level play components are separated for safe use, the integration provision can still be met. For example, if one part of the play area has activity panels and another part has swings, as long as an accessible route connects to both parts of the play area and at least one activity panel and at least one swing is located on the accessible route, the ground level play components would be integrated.

15.6.2.1 General

This section requires that at least one of each type of ground level play component provided must be located on an accessible route complying with 15.6.4 and must also comply with 15.6.6.

Comment. Designers and operators requested clarification regarding distinguishing between the types of ground level play components provided. For example, they asked whether a straight slide would be considered the same type of play component as a spiral slide. Commenters representing children with disabilities emphasized the need to ensure diversity or variety of play experiences for children with disabilities.

Response. An appendix note (A15.6.2) has been added to provide guidance on how to distinguish between the types of ground level play components provided. The general experience provided by the play component will distinguish between the types of play components provided. Examples of different types of experiences include rocking, swinging, climbing, spinning, and sliding. A spiral slide may provide a slightly different experience from a straight slide, but sliding is the general experience and therefore a spiral slide would not be considered a different type of play component than a straight slide.

15.6.2.2 Additional Number and Types

This section requires that, where elevated play components are provided, additional ground level play components must be provided. The additional ground level play components must be located on an accessible route complying with 15.6.4 and must also comply with 15.6.6.

Comment. The NPRM proposed that the additional number of ground level play components be equal to at least 50 percent of the total number of elevated play components. Commenters considered this number excessive.

Response. The regulatory negotiation committee proposed this provision in order to provide additional play opportunities for children with disabilities at the ground level since only a minimum of 50 percent of elevated play components would be connected by ramps or transfer systems. The regulatory negotiation committee also was concerned that some children with disabilities would be unable to or would choose not to use transfer systems to access elevated play components and wanted to provide additional play opportunities at the ground level for those children. The provision has a significant cost impact on play areas due to the cost of providing the additional ground level play components and, depending on the surface material used, the cost of providing an accessible route to the additional ground level play components.

The provision has been modified in the final rule. Table 15.6.2.2 has been added to the final rule which requires that ground level play components complying with the guidelines be provided in a number equal to at least approximately one-third of the total number of elevated play components. The table also requires that the additional ground level play components include different types of play experiences. The table reduces the cost impact on play areas and ensures that there will be a diversity or variety of play opportunities for children with disabilities at the ground level.

15.6.2.2 Exception

This exception has been modified in the final rule. The exception exempts play areas from having to provide the additional number and types of ground level play components required by 15.6.2.2 if at least 50 percent of the elevated play components are connected by a ramp and at least 3 of the elevated play components connected by the ramp are different types of play components.

Comment. The NPRM proposed to exempt play areas from having to provide additional ground level play components if all the elevated play components are connected by a ramp. Designers and operators commented that the proposed exception was too stringent.

Response. The exception has been modified in the final rule as discussed above. The exception is intended to encourage designers and operators to connect the number of elevated play components required by 15.6.3 with ramps instead of transfer systems because ramps are the preferred means of access for many children with disabilities.

15.6.3 Elevated Play Components

This section requires that at least 50 percent of elevated play components must be located on an accessible route complying with 15.6.4. Elevated play components connected by a ramp must comply with 15.6.6.

Comment. Commenters representing children with disabilities expressed concern that the guidelines do not require elevated play components located on an accessible route to be dispersed or located on different parts of a composite play structure.

Response. Dispersion is not specifically required because requiring at least 50 percent of elevated play components to be located on an accessible route should provide for an adequate level of dispersion.

[Revision to the final rule published November 20, 2000: The appendix to the guidelines contains advisory notes to assist in understanding the guidelines. Advisory note A15.6.3 addresses elevated play components that are attached to a composite play structure. As originally issued, the advisory note used the example of a climber attached to a composite play structure. The advisory note stated that the climber may be considered either a ground level or elevated play component. The advisory note explained that if an accessible route is provided to the base of the climber and to the top of the climber, and the climber is counted toward meeting the number of elevated play components on an accessible route, the same climber cannot be counted toward meeting the number of ground level play components on an accessible route. The purpose of the advisory note was to clarify that such play components cannot be "double-counted" as both ground level and elevated play components. However, if climbers and other overhead play components that are attached to a composite play structure are counted as ground level play components, instead of elevated play components, it would result in significantly less access in play areas. Fewer ground level and elevated play components would have to be located on an accessible route; ramp access would be more limited; and there would be less diversity in the types of ground level play components provided. The advisory note was not intended to create a "loophole" for evading the guidelines. The economic assessment, which analyzed the impact of the guidelines, counted climbers and overhead play components attached to a composite play structure as elevated play components. Play equipment manufacturers and operators, who have followed the guidelines on a voluntary basis prior to their adoption as enforceable standards by the Department of Justice, have counted climbers and overhead play components attached to a composite play structure as elevated play components. Accordingly, the amended advisory note states that play components that are attached to a composite play structure and can be approached from a platform or deck (e.g., climbers or overhead play components), are considered elevated play components. The amended advisory note further states that these play components are not considered ground level play components also, and do not count toward meeting the number of ground level play components that must be located on an accessible route.]

15.6.4 Accessible Routes

This section requires that at least one accessible route complying with ADAAG 4.3 (Accessible Route), as modified by 15.6.4, be provided.

Comment. Designers expressed concern that the technical provisions for accessible routes would restrict creativity and innovation in the design of challenging play areas.

Response. The technical provisions for accessible routes provide minimum criteria for designers to make play areas accessible to children with disabilities. Consideration should be given to the general layout of the play area, and specifically to integrating elements and spaces that can be accessed by children with disabilities within the area. Designers are not prohibited from providing other circulation paths and spaces that do not conform to the guidelines, if an accessible route is provided. ADAAG 2.2 (Equivalent Facilitation) also allows for departure from specific technical provisions where designs may provide substantially equivalent or greater access.

15.6.4 Exception 1

Exception 1 permits a transfer system to connect elevated play components, except where 20 or more elevated play components are provided, no more than 25 percent of the elevated play components are permitted to be connected by a transfer system. The rest of the elevated play components required to be located on an accessible route must be connected by a ramp.

Comment. Some operators and manufacturers requested that the use of transfer systems not be limited based on the number of elevated play components provided. Some commenters representing children with disabilities requested that transfer systems not be permitted at all.

Response. The exception has not been modified in the final rule. The regulatory negotiation committee extensively discussed the issue of when ramps should be required to connect elevated play components. The regulatory negotiation committee considered the cost of ramps in relation to the size of composite play structures, and the potential that ramps might have a negative impact on play value or on the number of play components provided. Although ramps are preferred over transfer systems, transfer systems are usable by some children with disabilities.

Comment. Commenters requested clarification regarding how the number of elevated play components would be counted. They asked whether a double or triple slide that is part of a composite play structure would be counted as one elevated play component or more than one elevated play component.

Response. An appendix note (A15.6.3) has been added to clarify that a double or triple slide is considered one elevated play component.

15.6.4 Exception 2

Exception 2 permits an elevated play component to connect to another elevated play component in lieu of an accessible route where a transfer system is provided. No comments were received on this exception.

15.6.4 Exception 3

Exception 3 permits platform lifts complying with ADAAG 4.11 (Platform Lifts - Wheelchair Lifts) and applicable State or local codes to be used as part of an accessible route.

Comment. Operators considered platform lifts hazardous and difficult to maintain since they must be independently usable.

Response. The exception has been retained in the final rule. The exception allows operators the discretion to decide whether a platform lift is appropriate for a specific play area after giving due consideration to the location, level of supervision provided, and other relevant factors.

15.6.4.1 Location

This section provides that accessible routes must be located within the boundary of the play area and must connect ground level play components required by 15.6.2.1 and 15.6.2.2, and elevated play components required by 15.6.3, including their entry and exit points.

Comment. Commenters questioned why accessible routes must connect stairs and exit points at stand alone slides. They maintained that accessible routes at these locations have limited utility because children with disabilities cannot often climb stairs or transfer independently from exit points of slides.

Response. This provision is intended to provide children with disabilities a circulation path to a variety of play components without affecting the challenge incorporated in play areas. Some children with disabilities, especially those who use mobility devices that assist in walking or standing, will benefit from an accessible route connecting play components, including stand alone slides. Others may not be able to use certain play components independently, but may enjoy the experience with assistance. An accessible route at exit points allows children with disabilities to negotiate through an accessible surface and to return to mobility devices with dignity.

15.6.4.2 Protrusions

This section prohibits objects from protruding into accessible routes at or below 80 inches above the surface. The provision has been revised in the final rule to apply only to ground level accessible routes in order to permit roofs on elevated play structures lower than 80 inches above the deck or platform.

15.6.4.3 Clear Width

This section specifies the dimensions for the clear width for accessible routes within play areas.

Comment. Commenters questioned why a 60 inch minimum clear width is required for ground level accessible routes when the final rule on children's elements did not modify the width of the accessible route for other types of facilities serving children.(26)

Response. The ground level accessible route in a play area is unique since the route may be the only area where accessible surfacing is provided. When the accessible route is the only accessible surface, it is likely that children with disabilities will be restricted to that small portion of the play area while other children are not so restricted. Furthermore, 60 inches is the minimum clear width necessary for turning.

Comment. Commenters noted that children who use wheelchairs leave their mobility devices when they use transfer systems and therefore the clear width of transfer systems does not need to be the same as the clear width of ramps on elevated accessible routes.

Response. An exception has been added to the final rule permitting the clear width of transfer systems connecting elevated play components to be 24 inches minimum.

15.6.4.4 Ramp Slope and Rise

This section specifies the slope and rise of ramps connecting ground level play components and ramps connecting elevated play components.

Comment. Commenters wanted more information about the technical provisions for ramps, including landings, handrails, and edge protection.

Response. The technical provisions for ramps are in ADAAG 4.8 (Ramps), including provisions for landings, handrails, and edge protection. Some of these provisions are modified by 15.6.4.4.

Comment. Designers requested clarification regarding the transition between accessible routes within a play area and accessible routes on a site. They asked if the transition is required to have a 1:16 maximum slope or a 1:12 maximum slope.

Response. Transitions at the boundary of play area accessible routes and site accessible routes must comply with ADAAG 4.5.2 (Changes in Level), which provides that changes in level greater than ½ inch must comply with ADAAG 4.8 (i.e., 1:12 maximum slope). Where a rubber surface is installed on top of asphalt to provide impact attenuation, the edges of the rubber surface may create a change in level between the adjoining ground surface. Where the change in level is greater than ½ inch, a sloped surface with a maximum slope of 1:12 must be provided. Products are commercially available that provide a 1:12 slope at transitions. An appendix note (A15.6.7) has been added to provide guidance on transitions.

Comment. A manufacturer preferred limiting the length of ramp runs to 12 feet, instead of limiting the rise of ramps to 12 inches.

Response. The regulatory negotiation committee wanted to limit the distance between the ramp and decks or platforms where children gather and interact, and also encourage designers to provide ramps with a lesser slope than the 1:12 maximum. Limiting the rise of ramps to 12 inches allows designers to use different combinations of ramp runs and ramp slopes to reach the same elevation. For example, to reach a 12 inch high deck or platform, a designer could use a 12 foot ramp with the maximum 1:12 slope, or a 14 foot ramp with a less steeper 1:14 slope. If the ramp run is limited to 12 feet, the designer could only use the maximum 1:12 slope.

15.6.4.5 Handrails

This section specifies dimensions for handrails on ramps provided within play areas. An exception has been revised in the final rule to clarify that handrails are not required at ramps located within ground level use zones and another exception has been added that does not require handrail extensions at the top and bottom of ramps to avoid any potential protrusion into circulation paths, especially on elevated decks or platforms.

15.6.5 Transfer Systems

This section contains technical provisions for transfer systems. The section clarifies that transfer platforms must be located where transfer is intended to be from a wheelchair or other mobility device, and that transfer steps must be located where movement is intended from a transfer platform to a level with elevated play components required to be located on an accessible route. The section also clarifies the orientation of the transfer space. The NPRM requested information regarding the effective placement of transfer supports. Commenters provided some examples of transfer supports designs. An appendix note (A15.6.5) has been added to provide guidance on transfer supports.

15.6.6 Play Components

This section contains technical provisions for ground level play components located on accessible routes and elevated play components connected by ramps. The provisions specify the dimensions for maneuvering space, clear floor or ground space, heights and clearances at play tables, the height of seats and entry points, and transfer supports.

Comment. Commenters requested clarification regarding the location of the clear floor or ground spaces and maneuvering spaces, and whether clear floor or ground spaces, maneuvering spaces, and accessible routes may overlap.

Response. A specific location has not been designated for the clear floor or ground spaces and maneuvering spaces, except for swings, because each play component may require that the space be placed in a unique location. The maneuvering space for swings must be located immediately adjacent to the swing (see figure 66). Clear floor or ground spaces, maneuvering spaces, and accessible routes may overlap within play areas.

Comment. The NPRM proposed reach ranges for manipulative or interactive features of play components. Commenters noted that the reach ranges are not consistent with the ADAAG provisions for children's elements and the ASTM F 1487-98 standard. The International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association recommended a reach range between 9 inches and 48 inches for a side reach, and 20 inches to 36 inches for a forward reach. Commenters questioned how the proposed reach ranges might apply to overhead play components and what provisions would apply to reaches over obstructions. They also questioned applying reach ranges designed to accommodate children who use wheelchairs to play components reached by transfer systems.

Response. The reach ranges have been moved to an appendix note (A15.6.6.6) and are advisory only. This is consistent with the action taken in the final rule on children's elements.(27) The regulatory negotiation committee proposed the reach ranges based on the NPRM on children's elements. (28) Comments on that rulemaking and this rulemaking have raised important issues that deserve further research.

Comment. Commenters noted that the proposed reach ranges were not adequate for play tables such as sand and water tables. These play components necessitate a reach over an obstruction and the NPRM did not include a provision for knee and toe clearance to facilitate this type of reach.

Response. A provision has been added to the final rule to address the concerns. Although the reach ranges are advisory only, knee and toe clearance for play tables have been included in the final rule. These clearances are consistent with the provisions in ADAAG for children's elements such as lavatories. An exception provides that play tables designed for children ages 5 and under are not required to provide knee and toe clearance if a parallel approach to the table is provided.

15.6.7 Ground Surfaces

This section provides that ground surfaces along accessible routes, clear floor or ground spaces, and maneuvering spaces within play areas must comply with ADAAG 4.5.1 (Ground or Floor Surfaces - General) and the ASTM F 1951-99 Standard Specification for Determination of Accessibility of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment. The ground surfaces must be inspected and maintained regularly and frequently to ensure continued compliance with the ASTM F 1951-99 standard. If located within use zones, the ground surfaces also must comply with the ASTM F 1292-99 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment. The NPRM referenced the ASTM PS 83 Provisional Standard Specification for Determination of Accessibility of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment. The ASTM PS 83 standard has been finalized as the ASTM F 1951-99 standard. Minor editorial changes were made between the provisional standard and the final standard.

Comment. Commenters requested more information about the ASTM PS 83 standard.

Response. The ASTM standards are copyrighted private consensus standards and are available from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), 100 Barr Harbor Drive, West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2959, telephone (610) 832-9585. The cost of the ASTM F 1951-99 standard is $30. The ASTM standards may be ordered online from ASTM (http://www.astm.org). An appendix note (A15.6.7) has been added to provide guidance on the ASTM F 1951-99 standard.

Comment. Some commenters were concerned that engineered wood fiber products would not provide an adequate accessible surface. Other commenters reported positive experiences with engineered wood fiber products in play areas used by children with disabilities. Commenters also requested that the Access Board publish a list of accessible ground surfaces.

Response. Some engineered wood fiber products have been tested and meet the ASTM F 1951-99 standard, and others have not. The fact that a specific product has been tested and meets that ASTM F 1951-99 standard does not necessarily mean that all other similar products will meet the standard. Engineered wood fiber surfaces will require frequent maintenance to comply with the ASTM F 1951-99 standard because of surface displacement due to user activity or looseness due to moisture. The settling of engineered wood fiber may also affect the distance between the ground surface and transfer platforms. The final rule requires ground surfaces to be inspected and maintained regularly and frequently to ensure continued compliance with the ASTM F 1951-99 standard. The Department of Justice regulations for titles II and III of the ADA also require public and private entities to maintain accessible features.(29)

Designers and operators are likely to choose materials that best serve the specific needs of each play area. The type of material selected will affect the frequency and cost of maintenance. The existence of the ASTM F 1951-99 standard should hasten the development of new materials and improvements in existing products. The Access Board plans to develop technical assistance materials on accessible ground surfaces. Based on concerns expressed by commenters and the fact that the ASTM F 1951-99 standard is new, the Access Board will closely monitor how well the standard provides for accessible surfaces.

15.6.8 Soft Contained Play Structures

This section requires an accessible route to serve entry points of soft contained play structures. Where three or fewer entry points are provided, at least one must be located on an accessible route. Where four or more entry points are provided, at least two must be located on an accessible route. Accessible routes must comply with ADAAG 4.3 (Accessible Route). An exception provides that transfer systems complying with 15.6.5 and platform lifts complying with ADAAG 4.11 (Platform Lifts - Wheelchair Lifts) and applicable State or local codes are permitted to be used as part of an accessible route. There were very few comments on this section and no changes have been made in the final rule.