At Panorama Park in Colorado Springs, people of all abilities can’t seem to get enough of the Spinner. The play structure resembles a merry-go-round that someone pushes from the outside to make it spin. But unlike many pieces of playground equipment, a person in a wheelchair can access it just as easily as a person on foot.

That’s because the mechanism is sunken and the surface flush with the ground, allowing everyone to embark smoothly.

Panorama Park in Colorado Springs includes a playground with seven distinct but connected play areas for climbing, swinging, sliding, sand play, sensory retreat, play mounds, and a toddler area. The Spinner is one of many features designed to be accessible to people with and without physical disabilities. Photo: Olivedia Productions

“The whole idea behind universal design is that it’s conceived in a way that’s better for everyone, no matter your ability,” says Kerry White, a landscape architect and principal of Urban Play Studio, who designed the play space. “Someone in a wheelchair or walker can roll or walk right onto it, and they sit next to kids without any physical disabilities. It’s seamless.”

The Spinner is one of many aspects of Panorama Park designed to be universally accessible. There are a variety of accessible swings, a sand table that children in wheelchairs can access, and a Quiet Nook for anyone who might need a momentary escape from the stimulation. Contrasting bands on the poured-in-place rubber play surface serve dual purposes. They define, connect, and organize the various play stations for neurodivergent children who might need the visual clues to guide their play journey, and they help guide people with visual impairments.

Lindsey Blankenship, an advocate for the disability community in Colorado, has a rare genetic retinal disease, which is causing her to lose her sight. The 43-year-old mother of two boys lives outside Denver and laments that more parks and trails don’t include simple visual or textural cues like the ones at Panorama to alert people who are visually impaired that a surface or elevation change is imminent.

“The hardest thing is when everything looks the same,” says Blankenship, president of the Colorado chapter of the Foundation Fighting Blindness and director of Creating S.P.A.C.E., an educational and professional program helping make disability a comfortable conversation. “For me, depth perception becomes an issue, so if there is no variation between gravels or the path is the same color as the steps, that’s a problem.”

Including visual or textural contrast to indicate elevation or slope changes is one design strategy to make parks and trails more inclusive for people with visual impairments. Photo: Mart Production

Navigating with her white cane, which she nicknamed “She-Ra” after the 1980s female superhero, Blankenship knows parks could be far more welcoming to everyone. “I feel like there is so much more to be done,” says Blankenship. “Parks are pretty dated.”

Trust for Public Land is working to change that. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets forth design requirements, people in the disability community have long known those standards to fall short. We’re committed to connecting everyone to the outdoors, and that means partnering with people with and without disabilities, landscape architects, and park planners who prioritize inclusive design.

Donate today to help Trust for Public Land and our partners across the country imagine, fund, and create more inclusive playgrounds, parks, and trails so that everyone can experience and benefit from time outside.

Landscape Architecture 

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