Paige Caruana, 5, enjoys the All-Abilities playground with her dad Ryan Caruana at the City Botanic Gardens in Brisbane. Photo: Michelle Smith
When five-year-old Paige Caruana spotted the new all-abilities playground in the Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens on Saturday afternoon, the smile that spread across her face didn’t leave until she did.
“Come on, Paigey,” her sister Taylor, 7, yelled, as she ran ahead to test out the equipment.
With the aid of a walker, the little girl scooted after her sister, straight up a ramp and on to the play equipment, where she joined tens of other kids squealing and laughing.
Paige Caruana, 5, enjoys the All-Abilities playground with her sister Taylor Caruana, 7.. Photo: Michelle Smith
A rare hereditary disorder known as Hereditary Spastic Paraparesis limits the Thornland youngster’s use of her legs, leaving her unable to move far without the assistance of her walker.
But once on the playground, she was almost as agile as everyone else there, climbing, sliding, swinging and spinning like all the other kids.
“Do you need some help?” Taylor asked Paige, as she crawled towards a ropes set.
Paige Caruana, 5, enjoys the All-Abilities playground with her dad Ryan Caruana, and sister Taylor, 7. Photo: Michelle Smith
“No,” the determined little girl said.
“I can do it myself.”
Therein lies the beauty of the 32 all-abilities playgrounds that Brisbane City Council has now opened across the city.
Paige can do it herself.
For many years, the parents of disabled Brisbane children have quietly endured the heartbreak of watching their child on the playground sidelines, excluded from the laughter and fun.
The long-time Queensland general manager of Spinal Injuries Australia John Mayo knows better than most the sadness that exclusion can bring.
“If you want an inclusive community, it starts with children,” he said.
“A child with a disability looking on looks longingly saying to themselves, ‘I wish I could do that’ and wishing they could do that is about two things, having the actual experience and playing with other children,” he said.
“And parents have that longing for integration for their children, for acceptance, participation and inclusion.
“It’s a magnificent thing now we are gaining all abilities playgrounds.”
The recently opened $2 million CBD playground and another $3 million one in Whites Hill offer an array of modifications to enable wheelchairs or wheelchair bound children to use things such as a merry-go-round, swings and slides.
They also have some Braille features to enable vision-impaired children to join in.
The delivery of accessible playgrounds is a key component of the Brisbane City Council’s 2012-2017 Access and Inclusion Plan, which is fast making the city one of Australia’s most disability-friendly.
For Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, the opening of the first two all-abilities playgrounds is a particularly proud milestone in the policy.
“It’s important the kids feel a part of this community of ours and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
“Six per cent of our population have a profound or severe disability, so the fact children can integrate regardless of their level of ability is what it’s about.
“Each playground has differing forms, there is no total checklist around these things but it about making sure there is opportunities for young children with disabilities to participate in some if not all of the pieces of equipment.”
The Cerebral Palsy League joined Spinal Injuries Australia and a range of other disability providers in the consultation process for the playgrounds.
Cerebral Palsy League CEO Angela Tillmans commended the council on what she said was a “first class facility”.
“Importantly, children with disabilities will now be able to play alongside their friends and siblings,” she said.
For Paige Caruana’s father Ryan, watching his youngest child using the playground facilities with ease brought a smile to his face almost as big as Paige’s.
“She’s so determined to do everything herself,” he said.
“She’s always close with her sister and with her disability she can’t keep up with her sister, so as a parent it’s a bit disheartening but she copes pretty well.
“Here, with what we have experienced, Paige is able to climb up and use the majority of the facilities.
“She’s just one of the other kids. That’s the most important thing.”