Former Project Manager of Queensland All Abilities Playground Project
My interest in playgrounds and other social and physical environments stems from my background in the social sciences, in particular person-environment relationships and applied qualitative research, plus through my work with children and young people with disabilities and their families. I have a particular research passion in describing and understanding children and young people with disabilities (and their families) lived experiences in inhabiting their urbanised environments from a phenomenological perspective. The intent is to build knowledge and understanding within urban and social policy, planning and design to help create urbanised environments that enhance lived experiences for people with all abilities. Overall, my work and research is seeking to create a level playing field for children and young people with disabilities and their families to enable them to realise their rights and aspirations.
Currently, I am in my final year of completing my PhD at Queensland University of Technology. My PhD research seeks to describe children with different physical abilities’ lived experiences of inhabiting their urban environment. The research explores urban environments of 10 children which includes places such as home, school, and community. In 2011, I also commenced working as a part-time Research Fellow with Cerebral Palsy League of Queensland, to co-lead a research study that seeks to map how environmental factors affect young people and adults with cerebral palsy’s participation in daily life. Whilst I am not directly involved in any specific all abilities playground projects this year, I have been providing council’s and designers with information, knowledge and skills in creating all abilities playgrounds.
About Queensland All Abilities Playground Project (QAAPP)
In 2007, the Queensland Government allocated $5 million to create 16 All Abilities Playgrounds across the state. The new innovative playgrounds provide all children, including those with a disability, with equal access and participation in play so they can learn, grow and develop during play with their siblings and friends.
For further information, visit QAAPP website.
Q: I visited some of the All Abilities Playgrounds and found them very unique and thoughtful. In addition, they were really popular among children and families in the community. You led the QAAPP from scratch as a project manager. Could you tell us the background of this project?
A: The idea of creating an All Abilities Playground first evolved in 2004, as there was an opportunity to use a small amount of funding to create a place of fun and respite for families. Through my previous work with families with a disability, I was aware of the challenges and barriers that inhibited children with physical disabilities opportunity to play in traditional Playground. So to create a Play Environment that meet the needs of children with high support needs and their families was considered was a great use of funds. By Mid 2004, I undertook a feasibility study with families to confirm the idea, which then led to the planning and collaboration with the local council, (formerly Caloundra City Council). Work had begun on creating the Department’s first All Abilities Playground at Pioneer Park at Landsborough on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Meeting the children and families needs, along with remove existing barriers found in traditional playground was the key priority of this project. A working group was established from late 2004, to plan and design the play environment, this included children with physical disabilities and their families, a Occupational Therapist from Montrose Access (non government organisation), Local Council Staff including Landscape Architect and Construction Manager, External Designer and Manufacturer and myself. This participatory process was critical to the playground success. The result being a very successful play environment delivered in February 2006, which has high level of patronage from the Sunshine Coast community, which is still the case in 2011.
This success gave rise to $5million being granted in late 2006, as part of an election commitment, to expand the All Abilities Playground concept into a project across Queensland. In 2007, I began work on developing the concept into statewide project, known as Queensland All Abilities Playground Project (QAAPP). From 2007 to end of 2010, I led the QAAPP. Unfortunately, the team was disbanded at the end of 2010 due to funding limitations, however, 12 playgrounds were completed, while 4 others were underway. Sourced from: （http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/disability/community-involvement/queensland-all-abilities-playground-project/pioneer-park）
Q: What are important factors to design play spaces for ALL children?
A: There are many different opinions, but from my experience I consider a participatory design framework that encapsulates the following key concepts: enable play for all children; strengthening families; and engender learning and development in local governments and industry, is paramount to creating an All Abilities Playground (AAP). AAP’s need to ensure the needs of children with disabilities and their families are understood and met in the design.
Angie: “I don't think you can [design] a playground these days without actually asking the families who are going to use it because it [then becomes] irrelevant. If you're not going to asking the people who frequent it, then what is the point of doing it? So, it's vital to ask”. (Angie is a Mum and chairperson of the Umbrella Network Group who was involved in the Thurwingowa Riverfront All Abilities Playground. http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/disability/community-involvement/all-abilities-playground/locations/thuringowa/umbrella-mums.page)
Applying this methodology throughout the project provides continual dialogue to ensure the needs of children, families and community are at the forefront of consideration in that specific context. This participatory approach to design is not a new concept, it stems from the 1960’s social architecture movement through the likes of social architects such as Henry Sannoff. As outline there are three elements to success to creating All Abilities Playgrounds: enable play for all children; strengthening families; and engender learning and development in local governments and industry. These concepts are summarised below.
1. Enabling Play.
By enabling play, I mean to provide play experience that has value and purpose for each child. Often I have observed; and also been told by children with physical disabilities, that they are often bored in playgrounds as they are relegated to watching others play or to tokenistic play panel that are “accessible”.
To enable play, there has to be continuous accessible path of travel from car park to and throughout all of the spaces and elements that make up the play environment. This not only enables children to occupy the same spaces as other children but also enables children with different mobility requirements (children who use wheelchairs, crutches or walkers or just have unsteady gait) ability to move freely about the space and engage in group games like tag that often take place in confines of the play environments.
Secondly, children with various abilities and ages need to be provided the choice and opportunity to engage in different types of play (physical, imaginative, cognitive and social). Whether this is through natural or build elements, children need to have variety, play value and challenges that are suitable for various ages and abilities.
2. Strengthen Families.
By strengthening families, I mean, providing an environment that is safe and free that enables the whole family a chance to have fun, relax and enjoy some respite from the day to day. The inclusion of specific facilities is imperative to meeting the needs of families and particularly for families who have multiple children or who have a person with high support needs. If these needs are not meet, often families don’t go as it is too hard and difficult.
Things that families said made their experience easier were things like: having good accessible parking, perimeter fencing, good seating, picnic and BBQ facilities, shade; accessible toilets with at least one sturdy change table for older children and adults who require this. Family rooms that included both child and adult accessible toilet were valued by parents with multiple young children.
3. Engender learning and development in local governments and industry. By this I mean, working with local government and industry to build new knowledge and skills in order to shift ideologies and design practice with regards to children, disability and playgrounds. The intent is for learning to go beyond this project and be applied by local governments and industry to all new environments. This concept is dealt with in more detail in the next section.
Q: The playground builders including local government, designers and manufacturers must have been required to think in more innovative ways than before. What methods and techniques did you use throughout the project?
A: As outlined above, engendering learning and development in local councils and industry is a key component in creating all abilities play environment. This is what is great about participatory design process, it involves the local government, designers and manufacturers just as much as it does children and families. Collaboration and respect for each other and learning from each other is imperative to success.
There were multiple methods and techniques that were used to engendering learning and development in local councils and industry. Firstly the QAAPP Design Framework was written as a mechanism to aid learning and skill development. The intent of the framework was to: 1. raise industry and local councils awareness and understanding about the barriers children and families face in traditional playground; define participatory approach and show how to apply it in normal design process; and provide a case study of Pioneer Park.
The design framework was reinforced through ongoing support and knowledge provided by project team and other professionals in: Participatory Approach and Engagement; Design and Technical Issues.
The ongoing support in participatory approach and engagement included: providing councils with skills and tools in engagement such as: the Playground Design activity book which was based on communication symbols that could be universally used by all children); train council in use of the framework, provide council assistance to develop participation and engagement Strategies; facilitation stakeholder workshops and activities; trained staff in specific techniques – like observation in play (For further information you can read Ian Bentley, Landscape Architect, experience of learning observation in play technique from this project at http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/disability/community-involvement/all-abilities-playground/locations/mackay/ian-bentley.page );and mentored staff to analysis information from community and develop a community design profiles.
Ongoing support was provide to improve design in order to improve the play experience for children with complex needs and worked side by side with industry and council to create solution to barriers and design short comings. These included: hosting a two day education workshop in Safety and Playspace Design by Clive Dodd (specialist engineer and town planner) with councils via teleconferences and electronic lecture notes across the state; provide design solutions to enhance play environments; engaged Clive Dodd to review drawings and resolve technical issues where issues were identified; established Learning and sharing programs between councils - peer support; and utilised local Physiotherapist and Occupational Therapist to help with design specifics.
Q: User participation was a vital point in QAAPP. How did the local community members engage in this project?
A: Each council, with support from the project team, was required to develop a comprehensive community engagement strategy to ensure the new play space's design reflected the desires of the community. Providing multiple methods and times were a necessary component of each strategy to enable their participation. This is because; people are all different and have different preferences and needs in how they want to voice their ideas, needs and dislikes. For example children respond better to activity based methods and people with complex communication needs may have their own system on expressing their voice and need to be enabled to do so.
Engagement programs as such usually include a combination of the following activity and methods: focus groups and one-to-one interviews with key stakeholders; school workshops at various local Primary Schools (including state, private, special education units and special School); dedicated workshops for target groups (playgroup, and teacher and parent groups); My Playground Design given to all schools in the area for children to complete: dedicated design workshops aimed at refining design plans in line with community feedback. These various methods have provided people in the community direct involvement in the planning and design of their play environment.
The importance of community involvement is best articulated by the people directly.
“How can someone know what we want unless we are a part of it and [are] saying this is what works for us and this is what doesn’t. You can’t have creation being made without those that are going to use it being part of it, because no one knows what we want unless we say and have the opportunity to put our requests forth”(Joanne Argyle, a person with a disability involved in Pialba Seafront All Abilities Playground Sourced from : http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/disability/community-involvement/queensland-all-abilities-playground-project/playground-profiles/pialba-open/participatory-design-process-transcript)
Jenny: “Yes, I do. I think you need a lot of different people's opinions, thoughts and experiences to be involved in one huge project [like this]. You can get everyone's ideas together – different groups, different input”. (Jenny is a Mum’s from the Umbrella Group who were involved in the Thurwingowa Riverfront All Abilities Playground. Sourced from: www.communities.qld.gov.au/disability/community-involvement/all-abilities-playground/locations/thuringowa/umbrella-mums.page）
Q: Like Australia, awareness of inclusive design is growing in Japan. But in terms of play environments for children, we still have a long way to go. What is your advice or suggestion for how to begin and carry out such a project?
Education and Advocacy is a key! I find this is best done through engendering knowledge and skills through hands on support and experience to bring about change. So little is understood in the industry on how to create child friendly environments for children of all abilities.
Don’t compromise. children of all abilities must be at the forefront of all decisions. Compromise often means a child missing out in the right to play. Children who use a wheelchair and can’t weight-bear need to given the same opportunity and choice to play. I keep with the same line as stated above; enabling play for all is providing the opportunity and choice for all level of abilities and ages across play type. This can be achieved through various built and natural experiences.
Q: Thanks to your cooperation, we learned a lot from QAAPP. Your success will certainly inspire other countries in the same effort. Lastly, what are your future challenges in this field?
A: The challenge post project is the gap in both technical specifications with regards to safety and accessibility in play; and lack of regulation in the industry. Both have posed a significant challenge throughout the project. Whilst Access to Premises is integrated within Building Code of this year 2011, but this does not extend to play environments or the specific needs of children with disabilities. There needs to be continued advocacy for Australian- wide changes to play environments and other urban spaces including the footpaths and street of our neighborhoods for children. The other challenge is to be able to identify funding opportunities to share my knowledge further and to develop other tools and resources to aid the creation all abilities playground within in Australia and elsewhere around the world.
For further information, you can contact to Lisa Stafford,