Dr Shoshana Dreyfus with her son Bodhi

Researchers seek input on all-ages, all-abilities playground

Researchers seek input on all-ages, all-abilities playground

Young adults with an intellectual disability will have a voice in the design of a first-of-its-kind playground

A University of Wollongong-led research team is seeking young adults with an intellectual disability who enjoy playing in playgrounds to participate in a project to design and build the Illawarra’s – and possibly Australia’s – first all-ages, all-abilities playground.

The playground is the brainchild of Dr Shoshana Dreyfus, co-convenor of UOW’s Disability Research Network, which links people living with disability, the disability sector, and researchers to find practical solutions to systemic problems for people living with a disability.

Dr Dreyfus and her team are looking for young adults with an intellectual disability to consult with on what their play needs are and what equipment they’d like in the playground.

Dr Dreyfus is a senior lecturer in linguistics at UOW and a specialist in systemic functional linguistics and language disorders. Her 25-year-old son Bodhi inspired the project. Bodhi was born with a severe intellectual disability and has never been able to talk. He uses non-verbal communication methods to get his message across.

“I’ve been trying to give Bodhi a voice his whole life and now in this project I’m trying to give him and people like him a voice again,” Dr Dreyfus said.

“I want this playground to be for them but I want them to be consulted in the course of its design. Usually it’s people like me, their proxies, who are consulted. For the first time, we’ll be asking them what they want.”

Dr Dreyfus won a UOW Community Engagement Grant to conduct the community consultation for the playground, specifically with young adults with disability. Wollongong City Council and The Disability Trust are also supporting the project.

People with severe intellectual disability are among the most marginalised in society. They are often nonverbal and unable to live independently or find work.

“While built environments now take into account the needs of people with physical disabilities, little thought is given for the needs of people with intellectual disability,” Dr Dreyfus said. 

“Disability care workers often take young adults with severe intellectual disability to children’s playgrounds, but the equipment is too small for them to play safely or comfortably.”

The research team also include The Disability Trust’s senior speech pathology practitioner Tarryn Bracken and inclusive research specialist Edward Birt; and Wollongong City Council playground and parks specialist James Flinn.

The team will trial non-verbal communication tools with people with a severe intellectual disability, in order to ask for their views about the playground design. It intends for the project to become a blueprint for the design of similar facilities elsewhere in the future.

Three Wollongong sites are currently on the shortlist, with construction expected to start sometime in 2021.

“We believe the playground could be the first of its kind in Australia,” Dr Dreyfus said.

“It draws on the NSW Government’s Everyone Can Play policy, which has seen inclusive innovations in traditional children’s playgrounds such as wheelchair friendly trampolines, and takes it one step further – creating a playground where anyone can play, regardless of their size, age or intellectual or physical ability.”