Universal Access Playground in Ann Arbor is for Children of All Abilities

The playground was designed with access in mind.
By Natalia Holtzman, MS’19


Read time: 2 minutes
Two children play games at a universal access playground in Ann Arbor.
Two children play in the Universal Access Playground in Ann Arbor. Photo courtesy of the city of Ann Arbor.

Inspired by the fairy doors and gardens of Ann Arbor, the Universal Access Playground in Gallup Park rests on the Huron River, offering accessible playground structures to the community. 

The playground, as its name implies, was designed with access in mind and is meant to be enjoyed by children and caregivers of all abilities.

“The Parks and Recreation Open Space Plan, a part of the City Master Plan, includes the goal of providing amenities accessible to all of the community, including a specific focus on play areas that are designed to allow users [with disabilities] greater opportunities,” says Hillary Hanzel, MLARCH’17, a city of Ann Arbor park planner and landscape architect. “An inclusive playground specifically designed to be accessible to all was desired by the community.”

But the playground isn’t a blandly austere play area. Hanzel says the designers set out “to create a concept that included both a whimsical fairy theme and celebrated the natural environment of the Ann Arbor region.

Visitors to the Universal Access Playground encounter three uniquely magical play areas. The first is the Woodland Region, made for kids aged 2 to 5, which includes a mushroom-shaped playhouse, a high-backed sit-in spinner, and a sand area. The region was designed to enhance motor skills, balance, and sensory input.

Next is the River Region, which features a play structure and a swaying glider called the Sway Fun. The Sway Fun, with its swooping curlicues, is wheelchair accessible and was customized to look like a fairy boat. According to the park website, this portion of the playground “is great for building motor coordination, upper body strength, and balance.”

The Prairie Region is the playground’s final area and is meant to encourage imagination. Here, children can play in a shaded area with an Oodle Swing and a We-Saw. The Oodle Swing, larger than a typical swing, lets four to six children swing together and support one another, while also providing a convenient way to transfer from a mobility device. The We-Saw, a multi-seat seesaw, has four molded seats and a center platform. 

The playground also includes safety fencing, shaded areas, Braille signage, level surfaces and ramps for mobility devices, and a variety of textures for a positive sensory experience.

Also called the Rotary Club’s Centennial Playground at Gallup Park, the Universal Access Playground was built as a collaboration between the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor and the city of Ann Arbor, and included a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant. 

“The Rotary approached Ann Arbor Parks and Rec looking for an opportunity to commemorate their 2016 centennial anniversary, and the Universal Access Playground was selected because of its potential to serve an unmet community need and for its universal and inclusive nature,” Hanzel says.

That collaboration has resulted in an inclusive addition to the city through this intentionally designed playground that is accessible to all visitors.

Natalia Holtzman, MS’19, is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor.

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