New rules could mean changes at Illawarra playgrounds

Wollongong City Council rolled out new play communication boards at a number of playgrounds across the city, including this one in Stuart Park. Picture: Wollongong City Council
Wollongong City Council rolled out new play communication boards at a number of playgrounds across the city, including this one in Stuart Park. Picture: Wollongong City Council

Wollongong City Council has welcomed a state government cash injection aimed at making playgrounds more user-friendly for people with a disability – but says its too early to determine what that means for the city’s existing play spaces. 

The NSW government this week announced all playgrounds and other play spaces across the state would need meet a new standard of design.

The requirements would ensure both disabled and able-bodied children, and their carers, were able to use the spaces.

As part of the process, existing playgrounds would be assessed during an in-depth audit and rated against universal design principles. 

NSW Minister for Planning and Housing Anthony Roberts said the retrospective review of the playgrounds would determine the work needed to ensure people of all abilities had the same level of accessibility.

The government would provide an injection of funding for councils to retro-fit all existing parks within five years, Mr Roberts said. 

Wollongong has three play spaces specifically designed for children with disability – at the Botanic Garden, Luke’s Place in Corrimal and at Stuart Park.

More than 20 playgrounds have been upgraded to include a range of accessible features, such as nest swings and extra wide pathways to accommodate wheelchair access, during the past three years.

The council has also rolled out new play communication boards at a number of playgrounds across the city. 

The first of the boards – which are targeted at children with spectrum disorders, or those who have limited expressive language abilities – was trialled at Luke’s Place in 2016. 

The boards also include an array of symbols which children or their carers can point to and use to communicate during play.

Following the success of the trial, the council has now installed additional boards at the Botanic Garden, Austinmer beach reserve and Thirroul beach reserve, as well as at Stuart and Towradgi parks.

Asked what the government’s new standards meant for the council and its existing parks, a spokesman said the council’s playground renewal program was already guided by an annual audit. 

“These audits inform a four year capital renewal program and all renewals are designed to comply with the Australian Standards,” the spokesman said. 

“The state government’s proposal to provide additional funding to retrofit existing playgrounds should assist in expediting this process.

However, council is unable to confirm further details until they are provided by the state government.”

Earlier this year, a new inclusive playground for children of all abilities was opened at Stockland Shellharbour. 

The playground was designed in collaboration with the Touched By Olivia Foundation.

Touched by Olivia director Bec Ho welcomed the review and the new guidelines.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to develop and play, irrespective of their ability or added needs,” Ms Ho said.