For Gunnedah mum, Ashley Bender, a trip to the local playground is no walk in the park.
Ashley’s three-year-old son Kyren was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and his therapists recommend play therapy.
She said, however, the parks in Gunnedah are not adequately fenced or safe for children.
“Fencing is a huge issue for all children, not just the ones with a disability – Gunnedah parks are not safe,” Ashley said.
“The locations are also an issue, they are close to main or busy roads.
“In my experience, Kyren doesn’t have a sense of fear or danger and will wander off quite easily – park visits can be very stressful and not fun.”
The mother of three feels she can’t take her children to the park for safety reasons and said a fence would be the most valuable asset.
Ashley is petitioning the Gunnedah Shire Council to build an inclusive playspace – an initiative of the Touched by Olivia foundation.
“After Kyren’s diagnosis I began researching online ways to help him and stumbled across Touched by Olivia,” Ashley said.
“They introduced me to the all inclusive playspace concept, from there it made me realise there was a need for the whole community, not just my child.”
The all inclusive playspace idea takes into consideration everyone’s needs, regardless of age or ability.
They enable children, parents, grandparents and carers to socialise and play side-by-side on the same equipment, in the same environment.
The playgrounds are not dedicated to people with disabilities, but a playspace designed for them to socially interact with others and for the benefit of all community members.
“The whole design makes the playground different, every piece of equipment isn’t designed for a certain need, it’s for everybody,” Ashley said.
“The paths would be wider to accommodate prams and wheelchairs and disabled toilets in the park and I think the key thing is fencing.”
Ashley said if the all inclusive playspace was introduced in Gunnedah, her whole family could go to the park and interact.
“It’s all about inclusion and interaction – children with autism have development and social issues and to be able to get these kids out playing with other kids in the same park on the same equipment, in a safe zone, would be excellent.”
Ashley spoke with Touched by Olivia’s Executive Officer Rebecca Ho, on how to get the ball rolling in Gunnedah.
“I talked to them about what steps to take to get it up and running in our community and the first step was to contact council for a commitment towards creating the park.
“We formed a petition to create interest and to show evidence to council of the need for this type of park.”
So far, the petition has raised 202 signatures, with another 298 needed before presenting it to council.
Rebecca said after the foundation built its first playground in memory of Olivia, a friend’s child who died from a rare disease at eight-months-old, they realised a massive need in NSW for this type of playspace.
“We have found that one of the core disabilities that wasn’t being addressed in playspaces is behavioural and cognitive disabilities,” she said.
“The provision of play hasn’t been a priority in many NSW towns, including Gunnedah.
“Physical disabilities, coupled with childhood disorders, and the ever-changing demographic of stay at home carers, means that every detail needs to be considered for a space to be truly inclusive.
“Touched by Olivia has created a unique model based on partnership by bringing together communities, government and corporate Australia to deliver special places that change the way our society plays,” she said.
“Through extensive research, advocacy and guidelines based on the Universal Design Principles, we assist communities to create special places that encourage and invite social inclusion through play.”
The Touched by Olivia Foundation’s Rebecca and Ashley are aiming to meet with council on November 6 to present the petition and tour potential sites prior to the meeting.
Gunnedah Shire Council General Manager Eric Groth said council is supportive of exploring the concept further.
“I have been liaising with Touched by Olivia and the mayor with regard to a presentation to councillors in November,” Mr Groth said.
“The council would then consider any information presented along with recommendations from staff at a later date.
“Council will need to determine how any proposal fits with its long term strategies and affordability, and the relative merits of other worthy projects and competing priorities.”
To sign the petition visit www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/gunnedah-shire-council-build-an-inclusive-playspace-for-our-community