Why Wheelchair Swings Aren’t Meant for Your Public Playground

Child in wheelchair being pushed on metal platform swing. Words stricken share if you think this belongs in all parks. Replaced with Nope. Not a good idea. Read more about why.

Twice a year, like clockwork, I either get asked about the best wheelchair swings for playgrounds or am forwarded a touchy-feely article about a local philanthropic that has raised money to install one at a community park. I silently shriek and the politely respond. Make no mistake. I am an advocate for accessible and inclusive playgrounds. I’ve been advocating for the inclusion of children with disabilities on public playground since 1992. I’ve seen all types of designs, equipment and surfaces. Some work better than others. But safety and accessibility must be balanced. Safety should not be compromised. Access should not be compromised. So…here’s why platform wheelchair swings aren’t appropriate for public playgrounds.

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are not specific to the type of swings you provide — only the technical provisions for the access route to one of each type of equipment, the clear floor space to transfer, height of the equipment for transfer and “wheelchair parking space” adjacent to the swing.  In 1995, CPSC issued an alert encouraging the removal of animal swings from public playgrounds following the deaths and injuries of several children.  http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/1995/CPSC-And-Manufacturers-Alert-Playgrounds-To-Remove-Animal-Swings/  Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Access Board began rulemaking for recreation facilities and specifically playgrounds covered by the ADA.  Because of the safety concern of the animal swings (est. 30-80 lb metal and plastic molded swings), the rulemaking refrained from specific accessibility requirements for the swing equipment itself.  The aerosling swing (an adapted net swing) was developed to attach onto the existing swing seat and cradle the child that had limited balance or muscle rigidity allowing him to just lay back similar to a hammock. This type of swing requires adult supervision and is not intended to be left on the playground unattended.  Some park departments have purchased them as adapted equipment and made them available to parents to check out from the park admin office.  Or they place them in locked storage boxes in the park and provide parents with the key so the parent can get it out and use it with their child any time.  It is also common for a school to have one where the aide or para can install it for student use at recess.

Over the years, some of the major equipment manufacturers have developed different plastic molded swings with seat belts, harnesses and hand pumps and marketed them as “special,” “inclusive” or “therapeutic” swings.  They are not, however, required by the ADA standards.  More importantly, out of the safety concern, the recent ASTM F1487-11 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use now requires in Section  that suspended elements (swings) shall not impart a peak acceleration in excess of 100 g and shall have a HIC score not to exceed 500 when tested in accordance with impact attenuation requirements in 8.6.7.  Therefore, if you are buying a molded swing, you will need to get assurance from the manufacturer that this piece of equipment has been tested and complies with the standard.

In regards to the wheelchair platform swing, public playground safety and accessibility advocates have held for more than 25 years that this type of swing is not appropriate for public playgrounds.  The same safety concerns revolve around this design as they did with the animal swing — the movement, coupled with the user and passersby. Moreso, the platform encourages multiple users to stand on it and swing back and forth causing more safety risks.  There is an international company that has tried to refine the metal platform design to plastic and require a key for the user to unlock and access the ramp.  However, the addition of the “key” doesn’t exactly make the piece of equipment inclusive or independent as the rest of the equipment is for non-disabled users.  Even this type of design is probably only appropriate for highly supervised and confined environments like a children’s hospital play area.  It also raises the questions as to what type of equipment is appropriate to enter using a wheelchair versus what moving equipment is more appropriate for the user to transfer to a seat to minimize the safety risk, such is the case with amusement park rides.  Some amusement rides allow for the user to remain in their wheelchair while others, due to the speed, movement, force, etc, require the user to transfer to the ride seat.Long story short…. there is no such thing as a “CPSC compliant wheelchair swing.”  You would be better served installing a variety of swing designs to accommodate the wide range of user needs and abilities.  Some of the manufacturers even have saucer type swing seats that allow for a more stable transfer and a wider surface area that allows the parent to sit along side the child.