Building better futures with inclusive playgrounds

21 Mar 2017

Community playgrounds should be inclusive spaces where families of diverse ages, needs and abilities can gather to play and socialise side by side. Here’s what’s being done to ensure new play spaces cater to absolutely everyone – no matter how they take on the world.

Play is an important part of childhood development. Not only has it proven to help shape and progress social skills, imagination, creativity and brain growth, it contributes to improved potential for learning in later life. This is just as relevant and important to children with special needs – and nowadays it is crucial to ensure playgrounds are inclusive and supportive of all playing abilities. 

In 2009, one in five Australians reportedly had a disability. Of these, 290,000 (7.2 per cent) were children between the ages of 0 and 14 years. In past years, few playgrounds considered the unique needs children with special needs require to support and enable positive interaction and play in community spaces. 

Enter Lendlease. For over 58 years, we have been dedicated to creating the best communities in Australia. With an emphasis on beauty, sustainable design and, ultimately, residents’ well being, Lendlease is supporting the need for inclusive play spaces with a new, holistic approach to community planning. This innovative strategy prioritises the design and construction of all-ability play spaces. We work with not-for-profit inclusive play advocacy and design organisations in both the US and Australia. These inclusive community areas are specifically planned to cater to children and adults of all capabilities, providing opportunities for every member to enjoy the community surrounds and playgrounds regardless of age and physical ability.

In October 2016, we launched our first Touched by Olivia inclusive space at Jordan Springs in Australia. Livvi’s Place has been developed in collaboration with Penrith City Council and the Touched By Olivia Foundation. The playground takes its name from baby Olivia Perkins, who succumbed to Lymphangioma in 2006 when she was eight months old and who inspired her parents to set up the not-for-profit Touched By Olivia Foundation. In the ten years since its inception, the Foundation has delivered more than 20 inclusive playgrounds throughout Australia. Olivia’s mother Justine Perkins explained, “… Jordan Springs and surrounding suburbs [will now] have plenty of opportunities to play outdoors with other children and enjoy the equipment, no matter their age or ability… It’s Olivia’s legacy.”

Underpinned by the principles of universal design, the innovative playground was developed after five years’ consultation with residents, people with disabilities and their families and carers, as well as local schools, experts and stakeholders. The intention was to make a difference in the community, said Melinda Doust, a project manager for the Touched By Olivia Foundation.

“That’s what we do,” said Doust. “We do inclusion. Lendlease, Penrith City Council and Glascott Landscape have all worked really hard to make this project happen. We’re just excited to have this Livvi's Place completed – a project out there for the community that we know they love and is well utilised.” 

Laura Watson is a mother, local resident and director of the Jordan Springs Women’s Community Group, a support network she founded to bring all women in the region together to do activities, discuss important issues and build friendships. She says the new Livvi’s Place playground has made a real difference to the community. “Being a mum, it’s a good thing for the community and for our children that there’s a new and exciting place to go with different equipment than the usual standard,” said Watson. “There are slides and swing sets but also other interesting, appealing equipment for children of all ages and abilities to use together.”

“Even my children have noticed. It makes them realise that everybody’s different but everyone has the right to play and have fun and do the same things as all other children can do.”

The playground incorporates a wheelchair accessible carousel ride, water play areas, soft rubber surfaces and low-play and low transitional areas to provide special access to facilities for children using wheelchairs or walkers. Additional sensory and auditory features are designed to stimulate children with developmental conditions such as Autism.

The facilities are accessible for everyone, regardless of mobility, demonstrating exactly how much thought has gone into the design. Melinda Doust said, “The slide being wider means children who use wheelchairs or children with other mobility issues can be assisted by their carers, and go down the slide side-by-side with them as well. A lot of slides in standard playgrounds do not allow for this.”

Additionally, all-access water jets and fountains are proving popular, giving kids a chance to play on equipment they’ve never been able to use in playgrounds before. “[Also,] the trampolines are built in to the ground,” Doust explained. “Which means easy access. And we’ve made sure that all the play equipment has rubber soft-fall right up to the equipment so people with physical disabilities can get right up and into the play experiences.”

“There's also a table in the [sand pit] that you can wheel straight up to so children in wheelchairs can access the same sand pit and create great little social experience. These things all come together to create that inclusive play space where all kids just start playing together, including each other without prejudice.”
Lendlease have also taken this inclusive approach in the US through a partnership between our Communities business and international non-profit, Boundless Playgrounds®. Through this collaboration, we delivered all-ability play spaces on military installations throughout the States.

One of the many benefits of having a Boundless Playground in a military community is its role in the rehabilitation of soldiers with physical disabilities. Specifically designed to include equipment and facilities for veterans who have been injured during service, these inclusive play spaces ensure returned servicemen and women can still participate in active play with their children while also catering to kids with special needs.

The first Boundless Playground on a military installation was built in 2006 at the Lendlease privatized housing community Campbell Crossing, located in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Since then they’ve been rolled out in numerous military communities across the country, making a huge difference for hundreds of military personnel and their families. 

Each of these custom-built Boundless Playgrounds features an extensive network of slowly graduated ramps which extend to the upper levels, making it easier for children and wounded warriors using mobility devices to access and enjoy equipment. Ramps are wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass side-by-side without touching, while padded, soft-fall floors protect people with brittle bones, existing injuries or persistent limb sensitivity from further harm. 

Like at Livvi’s Place, custom components such as a wide slide, elevated sand tables and activity panels, and accessible swings allow for multiple people at once, encouraging inclusive play. A number of interactive multi-sensory activities cater for the hearing and visually impaired as well as children and adults with developmental conditions. Indeed, over 70 per cent of the equipment and activities at these playgrounds is accessible for everyone, ensuring no one is excluded from the fun.

“This is what it’s all about,” Philip Carpenter, Chief Operating Officer, Lendlease Communities said. “The vision of the Boundless Playground is to remove some of the barriers these service members now face when playing with their children and help them and their families achieve balance and wellbeing as they transition to life after severe injury.”

Carpenter said the space is helping to bring the community together. “The playground also affords families with exceptional members and wounded warriors the opportunity to interact with others who have faced these challenges, which can create acceptance and understanding for years to come.”

By collaborating with groundbreaking organisations like Boundless Playgrounds and the Touched By Olivia Foundation, We are working towards a future where everyone is invited and included to play. Such spaces encourage kids of all ages and abilities to interact and become friends and it’s a strategy that is gaining traction throughout the world because, put simply, it works.
“We should all be equal,” said Lauren Watson, who enjoys watching her two children play in the inclusive Livvi’s Place at Jordan Springs. “We should all have equal opportunities to do the same things.”