Playgrounds are more than just somewhere for kids to run around. They are outdoor community spaces, where parents can meet other parents and children can explore.
But although there are more than 500 playgrounds in the ACT, some families have found there are none they can enjoy.
For Amy Iacullo and her four children, it is virtually impossible to spend any time at a playground as a family.
"None of them are right for everyone. It's almost as if every playground here was built for children between the ages of birth and five. And the assumption that none of those children will have any limitations beyond the fact they can walk and they will have two parents at all times watching them," Mrs Iacullosaid.
Mrs Iacullo's eldest son, Romeo, who is nearly 8, has autism spectrum disorder, and 1.2 metre-high playground fences are no match for the boy.
Now a new petition to the ACT Legislative Assembly will call on the territory government to develop a standard for fully fenced playgrounds that incorporate the needs of families of children with autism.
"In 2020, $400,000 was allocated for fully fencing playgrounds. This is not being spent effectively or with proper consultation with families of children with autism," the petition said.
"Playgrounds in Canberra are often built close to roads or ponds. Statistically children with autism are three times more likely to die from drowning and 65 per cent of the incidents with a child with autism involved a close call with traffic."
Mrs Iacullo said Boundless, the all-abilities playground near Lake Burley Griffin, was not a suitable option, given the distance between the car park and the playground, and the proximity to open water.
"We wouldn't need a brand new playground. We would just need for playgrounds to be upgraded in the smallest of ways. I feel like whoever designed them, they obviously don't have children with special needs or they don't know how to consider children out of the box," she said.
Mrs Iacullo said the lack of playgrounds had prompted her to establish a mothers' group.
"What we do is we put together our own locations at other parents' houses for mothers to connect with each other, because otherwise we don't meet other mothers. It's extremely isolating. Not having anywhere to go to to meet people," she said.
"People talk about isolation and lockdowns being challenging; they should try being a special needs parent."
Vangelis Kanellis, a father of four children under seven, said it would be liberating to be able to use more of Canberra's small play parks.
"In practice this activity doesn't feel relaxing for us if the park is not fully fenced because of our child with additional needs. This can compound the tendency for families who have one or more children with special needs to become socially isolated and this can also isolate their siblings," Dr Kanellis said.
Dr Kanellis said a playground at Tank Street in Phillip typified an ideal playground for a family with a child with additional needs.
"It is large enough for children to run free, play with balls and even ride small bikes in perfect safety so adults and children can relax and have fun. It is also possible to park directly next to the play park for free," he said.
"Canberra is blessed with many small suburban parks with play equipment and often with shady trees but the lack of complete perimeter fencing makes many of these parks worrying to use because of nearby roads."
An audit of eight so-called destination playgrounds in the ACT commissioned by the City Renewal Authority in 2018 recommended improving fencing, shade structures and windbreaks.
The audit also recommended focusing on larger quality playgrounds rather than more, smaller playgrounds.
"An example of this is Moncrieff, which is much larger and with substantially more equipment than the average neighbourhood playground. People from across the entire of the Gungahlin area travel to Moncrieff to use this playground," the report said.
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An ACT government spokesman said a new play spaces strategy would soon be released, which would address issues including fencing and inclusive play spaces.
"A separate program to install new shade sails and fences at play spaces will be delivered soon, with construction starting in the coming months. Fencing installed including the height of fencing will be compliant with Australian Standards," the spokesman said.
"This work was informed through our Play spaces forum in 2018, in which the community expressed the need to make playgrounds more inclusive, safe and non-stressful for families with special needs and their parents and carers.
"We will continue to work to make play spaces more inclusive and safe for all types of play."
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