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Is there a particular segment in your community that isn’t being met? It could be a burgeoning demographic of young parents, or neglected groups and income brackets awaiting a safe place to play.

The first of the Seven Principles of Universal Design shows that attracting otherwise disengaged groups has a lot to do with curb appeal. The splash pad can do a lot of the heavy lifting here. By harnessing the universal appeal of water, it has a unique capacity to tease out the innermost play instincts of multiple individuals simultaneously. Meanwhile, its zero-depth playscape eliminates barriers of access and risk to help level the playing field for all abilities and generations — making the offer even more enticing.

You’ve extended the invitation — now it’s play time. Casting the right features will have a direct impact on whether people participate. Not only is this critical to a well-used space, but it makes room for the vast developmental benefits of free, unstructured play. Help your community reconnect with play for its pure enjoyment by choosing equipment that aligns with universal design principles of flexible, simple and intuitive use. For example, does your spray arch allow wheelchair users easy access? Is the transfer station on your water play structure evident to those with mobility impairments?

How do you keep them coming back for more? Philosophies of play show people benefit most when play triggers new discoveries. Start by planning dedicated areas for transitional moments, peaceful pauses and bursts of action buffered by clear, connecting paths of access. This will encourage a steady flow of activity between zones, while also meeting ADA standards of accessibility.

While the play industry traditionally categorizes zones by age group, emerging perspectives point to even greater, ageless possibilities for inclusion. A playstyle approach to splash pad zones — for discovery, exploration and adventure — shifts the focus toward individual play preferences and energy levels.

  • A discovery zone with gentle sprays may appeal to toddlers, children with autism or other cognitive disabilities.
  • An exploration zone with more physically engaging activities serves as a stepping stone to new experiences, skill building and collaboration.
  • A high-energy adventure zone full of non-stop action and exhilarating splashes satisfies thrill seekers.

In tandem, play zones reward all ages and abilities, allowing them to author their own adventures.

Communities that play together stay together. As professionals of fun, we can help shift the statistics on inclusivity by provoking more people to play. Together, we can use thoughtful design interventions to make the quality of life in our communities better and more fun.


Melinda Pearson is the design and specification manager for Waterplay Solutions. She can be reached at melinda.pearson@waterplay.com or visit


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