What is an inclusive playground, and where to find the best in Australia

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

They say play is a child’s work. It’s so important to our development that the UN High Commission for Human Rights recognises it as a basic right of every child. While most Australians take their local playground for granted, the majority of these are not accessible to all children. We’re slowly seeing that change, as local councils step up to the plate with more plans for all-inclusive playgrounds. Whether you’re exploring yourself, or looking for an independent support worker to take your kids to the best places around the country, we show you where to find them.

Accessibility is high on the agenda when council are developing public spaces. But when it comes to design, these days, ‘ticking the box’ on accessibility is not enough. This was the experience of Play For All Australia co-founder, Caroline Ghatt, when she gave feedback on designs for a new playground on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. The council’s response to her enquiry about inclusivity was the suggestion of one disability swing. The experience compelled her to take on the big job of educating local government about what true inclusivity means.

Three years later, Play for All Australia is helping to educate councils across the state. Their aim? For all councils to start from a point of inclusion when it comes to any playground upgrade. So far, they have convinced Northern Beaches, Kurringah and Hornsby Council to change their policies. Now, they’ve set their sights on the rest of the country.

What are the features of an inclusive playground?

A truly inclusive playground will consider a range of factors including access, equipment design, ground cover, fencing and shelter. Designs for toilet and barbecue facilities should also consider the needs of families. Previous incarnations of accessible playgrounds might feature a wheelchair-friendly swing. However, some advocates highlight the isolating effect this type of equipment can have. The aim for an inclusive playground is to ensure that all kids can use the facilities together. There are lots of ways that this can be achieved with small design modifications. Features might include:modified swings or flying foxes that all kids can use side by side raised sandpits or water troughs that kids who use wheelchairs can easily recharge carousels which are flush to the ground wheelchair-friendly mazes and pictures of nonverbal communication

However in many cases, inclusive playgrounds have been the result of lobbying on behalf of organisations, or parents of kids with a disability. One of these is Kahl Asfour, Mayor of Canterbury Bankstown. After witnessing his daughter, who has Angelman Syndrome, being excluded from playing with her peers, he worked with the Touched By Olivia Foundation to lobby for the area’s first all-abilities playground. The resulting space considers the needs of families, incorporating fenced-off areas and barbeques close to equipment to enable parents to keep a close eye. The team behind the park also claim that it’s the first in the country next to an accessible bathroom. It’s not the first playground that Touched by Olivia has helped to build. The organisation was created in the wake of one family’s grief at losing their baby Olivia to a rare disease. Over the past decade, they’ve worked with communities across Australia to develop 30 inclusive play spaces, which they call ‘Livvi’s Place’s’.

Similar facilities are popping up around Australia. In Queensland, the Gladstone Lions Park was specially designed for those with sensory processing issues and autism. It focuses on sensory engagement and aims to encourage people of all abilities – and all ages – to play together. In Adelaide, Rymill park has been earmarked as a possible location for the inclusive playground which will be built in honour of Quentin Kenihan.

Where can I find an inclusive playground?
So, where can you go in Australia to check out the best accessible or inclusive playgrounds? These links and resources can help you get started:

NSW- Five neighbourhood play spaces in Belrose have been transformed into one big, vibrant and inclusive sensory play network that all children can enjoy.

When will inclusive play spaces become the norm?

The good news is that policy makers are catching up, with NSW announcing that all play spaces will need to meet a new standard of design by catering for all people. In creating or modernising play spaces in Australia, the guidelines propose the following questions; Can I get there? Can I play? Can I stay?

Livvie’s Place in Five Dock was designed to help Autistic kids manage anxiety.

QLD- Pioneer Park at Landsborough on the Sunshine Coast, offers wheelchair accessible equipment and multi-sensory experiences. Queensland government boasts 17 all-abilities playgrounds and features a map and list on their website while Brisbane city council lists 40 parks across the city that feature accessible and inclusive play facilities.

VIC- Victoria is home to Nature Play at Royal Park, which was named the nation’s best playground by the Australian Institute for Landscape Architects Victoria Park in Ballarat is another project created with the support of Touched by Olivia

NT- Leanyer Water Park features an all-abilities playground and is a great spot to escape the heat.City of Darwin lists planned and recently completed playground upgrades on their website

WA – Piney Lakes Reserve Sensory Play Park in Winthrop was upgraded in 2017 with new accessible play items, sand and water play area, a renewed swing area and central picnic area.Shipwreck Park is a nautical-themed playground located 36km South-East of Perth in Sienna Wood, Hilbert. Access WA provides a comprehensive directory of accessible parks, play spaces and  facilities in the state

TAS- Dru Point Bicentennial Park in Margate is a fully-fenced playground about 20 minutes drive from Hobart featuring tactile experiences for kids with vision impairment. Bellerive Beach Park includes giant climbing towers, slides, swings and nature and water-based play designed for all ages and abilities.

SA – Hendrie Street Reserve in Park Holme is the first inclusive playground in the region.Kids in Adelaide features a list of some of the most accessible playgrounds in the city.

ACT- Kambah Adventure Playground Is a playground for all ages and abilities it has a wheelchair accessible liberty swing. Boundless Canberra is a playground designed for people with all different abilities. It caters for children/young persons who hearing, mobility, and vision impairments. As well as children who are on the spectrum.

Additional Resources
There are 30 ‘Livvi’s Place’s’ inclusive play spaces across Australia. The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children feature a great list of their favourite playgrounds from across the country  

Find an experienced independent disability support worker to help your family explore playgrounds in your area.