As dozens of smiling faces spun wildly around on the new carousel at the Illawarra’s first inclusive public playground on Thursday, it was clear just how much the park will mean to kids of all abilities.
Children from Aspect South Coast School whirled around next to kids from Parameadows and Corrimal Public School – all of them waving their arms and shrieking with excitement as they gave the newly opened Luke’s Place an enthusiastic test run.
The playground, in Corrimal Memorial Park, is designed to let all children play side by side. As well as the wheelchair-friendly carousel, it has colour-coded, textured sections for visually-impaired children, areas where hearing-impaired children can interact with noise and vibration and different active and quiet zones, including a water play area, for children with autism or other cognitive disorders.
It was named in honour of Corrimal four-year-old Luke Rapley, whose parents Sean and Rita pushed for the park to be built so that their son – diagnosed with multiple disabilities – could play with other children in a safe environment.
Aspect principal Bruce Rowles said the park would be a lifeline for parents of children with autism, who would finally be able to take their kids to play together after school.
‘‘There aren’t many public places they can go to play, so this will be a huge asset for our families,’’ he said.
Similarly delighted, Parameadows teacher Jessica Barracosa said it was ‘‘wonderful to see something designed for our students’ sensory needs and abilities’’.
The $250,000 playground was funded by Wollongong City Council and the Touched by Olivia Foundation, with support from the NSW Government, community groups and individuals.
It will be open to the public following an official ceremony by Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka and Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery on Friday afternoon.