The Attractiveness of Universal Design in Public Play Environments for People of All Abilities
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Accessible play environments have received considerable attention in recent practice; opinions vary from seeing them as critical links for serving a disadvantaged population, to a more negative viewpoint of their reducing overall challenge and fun. Little comparative research has been done to evaluate the use of specific playground features as indicators of attractiveness. The primary aim of this dissertation research is to test the hypothesis that play environments designed to the higher accessibility standard of Universal Design (UD) are used more frequently by people of all abilities than those designed meeting only Accessible Design (AD) ADA minimums. The secondary aims is to fill knowledge gaps in the literature by evaluating the impacts that specific physical elements of the play environment have on use, as well as their links to physical activity. This dissertation research is a cross-section case study that applies established protocols of momentary environmental observation at the playgrounds of three public parks within one city where physical qualities and demographics are similar throughout, and many potential confounding variables are controlled. The study compares playgrounds in one case employing UD, and two comparisons employing AD. Observations were made on 14 days in each park during 5 time periods, producing 210 observations, 70 in each park. Recording was done graphically on maps of each park and playground identifying a user’s approximate age, gender, and physical activity level. Data analysis was accomplished using descriptive statistics and ANOVA to test the primary hypothesis. Zero-inflated Negative Binomial Regression was also performed on 10 environmental variables of physical park and playground elements to evaluate potentially confounding relationships for significance. Exploratory qualitative analysis was used for the secondary aims, evaluating where users were in the park and their relationships with specific physical park elements categorized by behavior settings. Findings showed more than 50% greater use in the UD playgrounds compared to the AD playgrounds. The indication of greater attractiveness supported by greater use of UD playground facilities can serve to underwrite policies promoting the more costly UD practices not only for the benefit of those with disabilities but also for the overall public benefit resulting from greater levels of outdoor physical activity for people of all ages and abilities.
Hurst, Kenneth Rolf (2016). The Attractiveness of Universal Design in Public Play Environments for People of All Abilities. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from