NCA Publishes Results of Playground Surface Study

Indiana University Newsroom


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Results from a five-year Indiana University study of accessible play surfaces reveal the importance of proper installation and regular maintenance. Erring in either can create barriers to play, learning and development for a child with disabilities and can limit the assistance and involvement of parents with mobility impairments. 

The National Center on Accessibility, part of the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, evaluated the accessibility of various playground surfaces including poured-in-place rubber, engineered wood fiber, rubber tiles and hybrid surface systems. The U.S. Access Board, which is the federal designated agency that writes accessibility guidelines under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act, awarded the National Center on Accessibility $60,000 to complete the study to provide better guidance to public playground owners such as municipal parks departments and schools.

“The findings from this project, one of the most comprehensive studies of playground surfacing to date, clearly demonstrate that proper installation and maintenance are critical for accessibility,” said Jennifer Skulski, principal investigator for the study. “Park and recreation agencies have long struggled with selection of surfacing that meets performance criteria for falls and is also accessible to children with disabilities. We are thrilled to be able to provide public playground owners with much more objective information on the different surface options. This will enable them to make purchasing and long-term maintenance decisions appropriate to their facilities, budgets, personnel resources and the expectations of their citizens.”

Skulski said many of the findings were to be expected, especially the most notable, that even within 12 months of installation, each type of surface was found to have accessibility, safety or maintenance issues.

“Unfortunately, there is no perfect playground surface. They all have issues that the playground owner should be aware of in the selection process,” she said.

For example, poured-in-place rubber installed at one site was not resilient enough to meet safety standards for impact attenuation. Surface tiles installed at another site had puncture holes, buckling and separating seams that created openings and changes in level on accessible routes.

“The important takeaway here is for public playground owners to understand what issues can exist between the different types of surfaces, from the point of design and installation all the way through to seasonal and weekly maintenance,” Skulski said. “If the playground owner can better understand in advance what types of issues might come up, they can be better prepared during the installation process and for maintenance throughout the lifecycle of the playground.”

Final Report (HTML) (PDF)