Archive for September, 2010

President Obama signs final ADA guidelines into law. How will this impact your selection of accessible playground safety surfacing systems?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

By Ken Kutska, CPSI
Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
September 3, 2010

The ASTM has been working on the development of a test method for the evaluation of an accessible playground safety surface system that meets the intent of the American’s with Disabilities Act/ Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADA/ABA), recently adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice as the 2010 Standards. As an involved participant in this process I can say it has been a very painful and prolonged process due to a lack of in-depth knowledge and understanding of what the 2010 Standards requires of owner/operators of public playgrounds. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation within the marketplace and unfortunately we the consumers are most at risk. What constitutes an accessible ADA compliant safety surfacing will ultimately be determined by the Department of Justice once a formal complaint has been filed against some agency for failure to provide access to a public facility? When will this occur? I suspect sooner than later. Will it be your agency? I would like to share with you some of the unresolved issues as I see them in determining what is accessible and how do we determine compliance to some performance standard for accessibility.

The Americans Disabilities Act requires that public playgrounds meet the minimum requirements of the 2010 Standards, especially Section 1008.
Basically this requires owner/operators of public playgrounds to provide barrier free access to these playgrounds and barrier free access to all play components intended to be accessible.
This requires there be an Accessible Route to the playground, into the playground area, and to all access/egress points of every play component that is intended to be accessible. This is the stated minimum requirement and is in no way intended to imply this is all the owner/operator should be attempting to accomplish. It is nothing more than the basement bottom minimum that is required to meet the minimum intent of this legislation.

In 1999, ASTM F8.63 created the ASTM F1951 Standard as a method to objectively measure different types of surfaces and determine which surfaces meet the intent of the accessibility standards. Without an objective measurement determination of what constitutes an accessible surface is subjectively left to the Justice Department and the courts to subjectively decide. Everyone has been working together to try and create some basic best practice guidelines to help steer the industry and owner/operators in the right direction when making decisions on what to put into their public playgrounds in order to meet the minimum requirements of the ADA/ABA. It is important to understand that nobody can make a statement that their product or design is ADA Approved. They can state that in their opinion they meet or exceed the minimum requirements of the current ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines but that is it. Unfortunately there are some who are abusing this reality and putting the marketplace and owner/operators at risk of legal challenges to these claims. The current ASTM F1951 standard does nothing more than measure the amount of energy required to go across a surface in a lab test plot and compare that value to what energy a wheelchair user will expend to go up a 7% or 1:14 ramp. QUESTION: Should a child in a wheelchair be expected to expend the same amount of energy to go across a surface in a playground just to get to a play component and play with their friends as is required by them to get up a ramp, which by the way is 20% steeper than what is allowed in a public building like the users school.

What constitutes an accessible route? There are many conditions that must be in place to meet the minimum requirements for an Accessible Route. The area within the playground perimeter is treated differently than the area outside the playground perimeter. The requirements for the route inside the playground perimeter are less severe giving the owner/operators more leeway to make these accommodations in an outdoor recreation environment.

The following conditions are a minimum requirement inside the playground environment which is generally where the playground safety surface system would be installed.

Surface – ASTM 1951-99/inspected and maintained regularly and frequently
Width – 60 inches minimum/44 inches small playground less than 1000 square feet
Changes in level – should not exceed ½ inch
Running slope – 1:16 maximum (6%)
Cross slope – 1:48 maximum (little more than 2%)
Openings – No openings more that ½ inch
Protruding objects – No protrusions over 4 inches may protrude into the overhead clearance above the accessible route (up to 80 inches above surface)

Outside the playground environment these conditions may be more restrictive

Surface – should be smooth and free of overhead obstructions
Width – 60 inches minimum
Changes in level – should not exceed ½ inch
Running slope – 1:20 maximum (5%)
Cross slope – 1:50 maximum (2%)
Openings – No openings greater than ½ inch
Protruding objects – No protrusions may protrude into the overhead clearance above the accessible route (which is up to 80 inches above surface)

In other words, the accessible route requirements for playgrounds is already less stringent than those technical provisions for the built environment based on years of regulatory negotiations with various groups of constituents.

NOTE: Accessible Routes within the playground allow approximately 20% more running and cross slope than is allowed in the built environment.

There are many other considerations when one considers what constitutes an accessible playground surface both within and outside the use zone of the equipment itself.

The 2010 Standards requires the surfacing be firm, stable, and slip resistant and that it meet all the requirements of the ASTM F1292 for impact attenuation within the use zone. The use zone and the accessible route have very explicit MINIMUM requirements but minimum requirement, do not necessarily foster an inclusive environment by design. . These are guides intended to give some very minimum baseline requirements to keep us all out of the court system. The disability advocacy groups always recommend we consult with our constituents who need these types of accommodations to guarantee they will be able to utilize these public facilities and design to exceed the minimum whenever possible.

This is the spirit in which the initial research involving the Rotational Penetrometer came about. It was the first attempt to evaluate and objectively measure firmness and stability which are two very important aspects of any surface when someone with mobility issues must go across a surface. It was done by Peter Axelson and was commissioned by the U.S. Architecture and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board and published in June 1999. It involved people of varying abilities and physical challenges. This study provided information and guidance to those interested in providing access to areas that may not have been considered to be accessible in the past. Things like how long a trail should be and what kind of slope would work best, and evaluating what kids of materials work better than others. The study can be found at

Based on the intent of the ADA the current ASTM F1951 standard dos nothing more than what the original study commissioned by the U.S. Access Board and conducted by Beneficial Design. ASTM F1951 took a test methodology of using a human body (not someone who has to use a wheelchair), and see how much energy is expended to go up a concrete 7% ramp compared to going across a surface that is installed in a laboratory box according to the manufacture’s specifications. This test method establishes an acceptable level of energy as its baseline for a passing test at 20% greater than what is allowed by the 2010 Standards in any public facility outside the playground. How is this justified? It may have been the only test method to begin to address the need for accessible playground safety surfaces but conditions change as time goes on.

When the ASTM F1951 Standard was approved and was being administered by various testing companies was it being administered in compliance with the approved test protocol as spelled out in the standard?

This is opened to a lot of debate but during some testing conducted by various testing companies is was observed that the testing equipment used in the test procedure was not being conducted in the same way by each testing company and variation in the testing approach did not follow the protocol for the existing standard. Even today it is difficult for the consumer to acquire the complete test reports showing the values of the ramp baseline results in comparison with the surface sample results. Since the test only measure the work to go up the ramp and turn on the ramp versus the work to go across and turn in the surfacing sample what are we really measuring? How does this translate into defining an accessible surface? Why is the test only using a wheelchair for defining an accessible surface? What about users who may need to use crutches, or leg braces, or a walker?

What does ASTM F 1951 really prove?

All this test does is provide some information for the marketplace to use to compare surfaces when it comes to selecting an accessible surface. Any values being touted as “ADA approved” are nothing more than one’s opinion based on what information was available in the marketplace at the time.

The firmness and stability of a surface are more important conditions to consider when evaluating surfaces since it does not so much matter what happens in a controlled laboratory environment as what occurs in the real world where those who require these special accommodations are faced with access challenges each and every day of their lives. This is where owner/operators of public facilities will be faced with challenges of maintaining these surfaces in compliance with the 2010 Standards. Just as the ASTM F1292. 2223, 1951, 2373 and 1487 require the playground be maintained in compliance with the standards it also requires them to document this compliance.

How does a laboratory test show that the surface material being tested can also meet the ASTM F1951 Standard requirements in the field with everyday use? Without a field test this F1951 Standard has no relevance to the real world and the potential financial liability owners/operators may face once a successful challenge has been brought forward should be of major concern to all involved.

NOTE: Why can’t this current F1951 test method be implemented in the field? Shouldn’t it become part of the standard so consumers can be assured they are in compliance with the intent of the ADA.