Australia’s first regional all abilities playground was opened in Dubbo yesterday, with hopes the facilities can join in leading a ‘generational shift’ to acceptance of people with disabilities.
Dubbo City Council officially opened Livvi’s Place playground in Victoria Park yesterday, endorsed by the not-for-profit disabilities awareness organisation Touched by Olivia Foundation.
Dubbo was nominated as a centre servicing children with disabilities in the region, and a three-year project started with the construction of the play equipment in the park in 2008 designed by landscape architect Fiona Robbe.
The park now features amenities such as swings for physically impaired children, soft fall rubber, as well as a combination of colour schemes, textures and ground landscapes to make the park a comfort to children with neurological diseases.
Livvi’s Place now meets the foundation’s ‘all abilities’ guidelines, which means both visitors and residents in Dubbo and the central west of all abilities can play side by side.
Touched by Olivia founder John Perkins opened the park with Dubbo mayor Allan Smith and said the design is about bringing children with special needs together with others to bring a sense of normality to their lives.
“The standard comment is ‘I thought this playground was for disabled kids’. The thing is it is, it forces inclusion not exclusion,” Mr Perkins said.
“A child with a neurological disorder looks for order and looks for safety. You need to design with order in colour schemes, order in textures, but also if they do get a bit freaked out that have got a safe zone they can retreat to.”
Mr Smith’s granddaughter, Olivia, has mild cerebral palsy and he said play by herself or with other kids is something very rare in her life.
“Not only does she get enjoyment out of it, I note the parents and the grandparents - as I am a grandparent - can come here and feel that the world is on your shoulders and leave here smiling and be happy because the children are leaving very, very happy,” he said.
“You overflow with the happiness from the kids enjoying themselves.
“I think it’s great therapy for the kids, but it’s great therapy for adults as well.”
Mr Perkins agreed saying the phenomenon is commonplace at other parks with foundation accreditation.
“It’s not uncommon for us to be in the playground and just be watching people we don’t know and seeing parents cry in happiness because they’ve never seen their child be so accepted before,” he said. He said academic research is taking place to show how important such inclusion can be to develop the social
inclusion of people with disabilities.
“Lots of academics are saying there is the potential for a generational shift in the way that this generation of kids will have a change in the way that they accept kids with disabilities, and it’s all through play,” he said.
Other such all abilities parks in Australia includes similar amenities in Macarthur Park and Five Dock. The organisation was founded by John and Justine Perkins after they lost their daughter Olivia, at eight-months-old, to a rare illness.