Corrimal dad Sean Rapley can’t wait to see his two young children – Luke and Elanore – running around and playing together at their neighbourhood park.
For years, this simple pleasure has been out of the question because three-year-old Luke has multiple disabilities, including autism, making regular parks and playgrounds a minefield for the family.
But, over the past 18 months, Mr Rapley and his wife Rita have helped design the Illawarra’s first inclusive playground, which will allow children of all abilities to play together in a fun, safe environment.
The couple have worked with Wollongong City Council, the Sydney-based Touched by Olivia Foundation and other families in the area to design the park.
Mr Rapley said it would change the way his son and hundreds of other children with disabilities interacted with other kids.
‘‘So many special needs kids are isolated from the rest of the community because they don’t go to the same schools or play sport with other children, so by the time they grow up they haven’t learnt the social skills the rest of us take for granted,’’ Mr Rapley said.
‘‘This is going to be a place Luke can go and be safe and we won’t have to worry about him taking off.
‘‘He will also be able to play with typical kids in his neighbourhood – and especially his sister,’’ he said.
The playground will be named Luke’s Place and is due to open at Corrimal Memorial Park in time for the city’s annual festival Spring Into Corrimal.
It will have the region’s first carousel, which can be used by children with physical disabilities as well as other children.
It will also have colour-coded, textured sections for visually impaired kids.
There will also be areas where hearing impaired children can interact with noise and vibration.
Children with autism or other cognitive disorders will be able to play in different active and quiet zones.
‘‘It’s also going to be fenced, which will stop kids with autism taking flight – they often run away in times of stress, which means parents don’t take them to typical parks because it’s too
dangerous,’’ Mr Rapley
Wollongong City Council has provided $125,000 and the NSW government recently donated $30,000 to the worthy playground project.
Illawarra families and the Touched by Olivia Foundation have raised a further $55,000 through fund-raising, but another $40,000 is still needed to complete the playground.
Businesses, organisations or families can sponsor different parts of the playground, or donate money towards the cause by logging onto touchedbyolivia.com.au