Prescriptive Design is the design of a piece of equipment or environment specific to a small user group or individual and based on a remedy to minimize or compensate for the group's or individual's functional limitation. Over the last 10 years, several "experts" have arrived on the playground design scene recommending "prescriptive designs" for specific user groups. Recommendations have included assertions, some based on research, some based only on opinion. For example, some say that children with Down Syndrome have smaller hands, so handrails on the playground should be smaller in diameter. (The anthropometrics of children varies based on age ranges; different diameter handrails could benefit younger and older children along with adults.) Children with wheelchairs should have swings that hold the wheelchair. (Wheelchair platform swings are not recommended for public playgrounds, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.) Plastic slides short-circuit cochlear implants; therefore, only metal slides should be provided. (Research on the effects of static electricity related to plastic slides and cochlear implants is inconclusive at the time of this article's publication. Drain, 2006.) Children with autism need "quiet" spaces on the playground. (Child development specialists have been recommending separation of spaces for active play and passive play for years. "Quiet" spaces can be of benefit to all children. (Christiansen & Vogelsong, 1996; Frost, et al., 2004.))
"Prescriptive" design in public spaces meant to serve a wide range of users and abilities can become very costly. Prescriptive or "adaptive" design may be more suitable for individualized spaces meant for a small group of users or one individual to use on a daily basis such as home, workstation, or automobile modifications. "Prescriptive" design can also foster segregation in public spaces. It labels spaces as "the quiet space for children with autism" or "the special swing for children in wheelchairs." When equipment is labeled as for "special" or "handicapped," children, it is not likely to be used by anyone else. While prescriptive design may be suitable for a residential playground or specialized institution, it is not recommended for the public playground.