I am excited to see the development of accessible play spaces around Australia and the world. The park has gone from being my most hated outing to one I quite enjoy. When BJ was younger we would carry him around the park, put him on our lap to go down the slide or ride the swing giving him access to the enjoyment of “regular” playground equipment. As he got older and grew heavier it became increasingly difficult for us to give him the same access to the equipment at the park and there was little for him to do while remaining in his wheelchair. We therefore didn’t go to the park often when AJ was growing up because it was a place that accentuated BJ’s disability. Happily that is changing and although BJ is older we have gone back to visiting parks to give AJ the experiences she missed out on when she was younger.
Over the last year we have visited quite a few accessible playgrounds and this blog highlights the features I like the most and the reasons why. I think a combination of all of these things in one park would make for one awesome wheelchair accessible play space.
I love raised sandpits. This one in Bathurst has positions where a wheelchair can be wheeled under the raised side of the sandpit. Not only that, but it has dinosaur fossils moulded into the sandpit so even if a child cannot use a spade they can dig with their hands and unearth a fossil. The sandpit can also be used in the usual manner allowing children to pay side-by-side. I think it is important to have activities which can be done without a child leaving their wheelchair as many cannot do so.
There is a shortage of wheelchair accessible activities in playgrounds and I love the idea of a maze. A maze can be used with or without assistance depending on the child’s level of ability and it is a great way of playing tag in a more confined environment. BJ would have no hope of keeping up with kids running around on a field for example but he can manage to self propel around a maze. Once again this activity can be done by a child who cannot leave their chair.
The dual flying fox is a real favourite with us. What a liberating feeling for BJ at the ripe old age of 17 having his first turn on a flying fox at a Livvi’s play space. The supportive seat with harness makes it possible for BJ to use a flying fox and what better fun than racing your sister to the finish line.
Although this spinning seat requires transferring out of a wheelchair BJ loves sharing things with AJ so this is a winner as far as he is concerned. He can also manage to spin it himself which gives him a great deal of satisfaction.
Carousels are becoming popular in many of the accessible parks. The one pictured above at Livvi’s Place Five Dock is my favourite for a few reasons. The most important reason is its size. It is large which means BJ in his wheelchair is not the most dominant feature. When a non-verbal child is excited and they vocalise their delight it can be intimidating at first for other children. I think the fact that they are not so close lets other children play alongside comfortably. I also love the chairs for children who are walking but less stable on their feet.
Nest swings are a great alternative to “regular” swings for children who can get out of their wheelchairs. They provide a supportive environment where they can sit or lie to swing. It also allows room for a sibling or parent to swing comfortably with the child. I used to find swinging on an ordinary swing with BJ on my lap back breaking.
Lots of musical instruments at wheelchair height are fantastic fun and often require little hand function to make a sound. Another good activity which can be done without getting out of a wheelchair.
Water play, particularly in summer, is popular with BJ. It can be done from the comfort of his wheelchair and a long trough brings kids together to play alongside him. It is disappointing when water play features are sometimes built up on a concrete platform not allowing wheelchair access.
The Liberty Swing (wheelchair swing) is the first piece of accessible equipment BJ could use in a park while staying in his wheelchair and he still loves the sensation of swinging. For children who cannot get out of their wheelchair this provides a more active experience at the park than most of the accessible equipment. The argument against Liberty Swings is often that it is in an enclosed area which isolates the child from their peers. The Liberty Swings are heavy and it is therefore dangerous if children run in front of it. I think what they have done at Lake Macquarie Variety Park at Speers Point is great because there are swings beside the Liberty Swing which allows AJ to swing alongside BJ.
Communication at the park. I would have loved to see communication boards in parks when BJ was little. It would have been a motivating place to go and practice his communication skills. We have seen boards in many parks with varying degrees of success. In a Queensland park we visited they had fantastic boards dotted around the play space but they were positioned too low for BJ to use them. In an Adelaide park they once again had great boards at the park but several were placed on the side of rubbish bins which would not be something I would want a child touching to communicate with me. The pictured communication board at Black Mountain Peninsula Playground seems just right. A good height, great variety of messages and a good background colour contrast.
Kids love pretending to drive vehicles. Many of the trains and other ride in vehicles at parks have a step up to them. I really like this submarine because it is spacious and easy to wheel into.
Getting BJ on a slide these days is much easier thanks to the new slides which are set in the side of a hill. We can get BJ’s wheelchair right to the top and there are no stairs.
In Australia people with a disability have access to a MLAK key. The MLAK key unlocks disabled toilet facilities and the Liberty Swings. We keep BJ’s attached to the back of his wheelchair so whoever is with him has access to these facilities with the key. I like the bathroom facilities which have a key lock as they are generally cleaner and not misused.
A few years ago a mother told me of her disgust at having to change her son on a bathroom floor. As we don’t have that issue It had never occured to me so I am now conscious of this when we look at bathroom facilities. A bench of some kind in a disabled bathroom allows great dignity to these families and needs to be a part of any future planning in these playgrounds.
BJ loves being in the heart of the action at a park but I am aware this isn’t the case for all children. I am impressed by the fenced quiet zone at Lake Macquarie Variety Playground.
Lastly, I think it would be fantastic to see one of these roadways in an accessible park with signs including wheelchair drivers. What better place would there be to do electric wheelchair driving practice than on a fun roadway?
What would you like to see as a feature in an accessible playground?
Have you seen a great piece of accessible equipment?
I’d love to hear what you would like to have in playgounds in the future. Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Parks featured are Livvi’s Place Five Dock – to read more about this playground and the Touched by Olivia Foundation head to their website.
Bathurst Adventure Playground – read more about the park here.
Lake Macquarie Variety Playground, Speers Point, Lake Macquarie – read more here.
Black Mountain Peninsula Playground Canberra.
Kurrawa All Abilities Playground, Broadbeach – read more here
To find out more about MLAK Keys visit the Master Locksmith website.
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