Inclusive Playspace Guidelines

 In 2012, the Australian Government provided Touched by Olivia with funding to develop a best practice guide to creating an inclusive playspace. We worked with the some of the best and most experienced landscape designers, academics, and non government and advocacy organisations to create a simple document that outlines what makes a playspace inclusive.  Click the link below to watch the short video.

The Principles of Inclusive Play

1. Everyone can play

2. Access to Nature

3. Total Experience

4. A connection to community

5. Play Independence – I can do it myself!

6. Friendship – Social participation 

Inclusive Playsp

Click the image to download or read more about the 6 principles or keep scrolling.

Inclusive Play Principle 1 – Everyone can Play

What: Not everyone can play on everything, but there is something for everyone.

Why: A truly inclusive play space needs to extend an invitation for all to join in on play experiences; different ages and ability levels mean that not every opportunity will work for the individual player.

How: We create inclusive spaces by adhering to Universal Design Laws. This is taking the design beyond ACCESS and into the INCLUSION of all members of our community. Access means making concessions to enable persons with differences to use a space, like ramps, or special amenities. Inclusion empowers people of all abilities to utilise a space.

Inclusive Play Principle 2 – Access to Nature

What: Assist and maintain a connection with nature

Why: There are huge benefits from accessing nature, and these can be lost when creating an inclusive environment for play.


  • Using natural materials – ropes, boulders, woods to create quiet spaces where over stimulated players can retreat.
  • Choose plantings that compliment the play environment and encourage access for people who may have difficulties
  • Ensuring that there are natural shade canopies, by either maintaining existing trees, transplanting mature trees or planting them for future generations
  • Selecting materials that provide opportunity to explore nature through senses. Textural differences in leaves, sands, pods and nuts can create fantastic play props.


Inclusive Play Principle 3 – Total Experience

What: The total experience should invite all members of the community to enjoy the social and health benefit of play.

Why: Play is a right that needs to be afforded to everyone. Creating an accessible experience means more than equipment selection. It is considering the infrastructure, location, invitation, and journey that people take to reach the play environment.


  • Multisensory: high and low. Loud and soft. Smooth and rough. Shade and light.
  • Spaces for privacy
  • Spaces for shared play
  • Amenities must have change tables and shade
  • Connection of the space.
  • Time abundance
  • Opportunities to watch
  • Balance the risk vs the challenge.
  • Shortest path of travel

Inclusive Play Principle 4: A connection to community

What: The community has been engaged in the process and there has been participation beyond consultation. Resurrect the village vibe.

Why: The outcome of the engagement process is ownership participation is part of the journey


Phase 1 – Planning

Purpose is to identify WANTS and NEEDS of stakeholders. Stakeholders will include internal and external. (Note importance of families and special schools)

  • ” Develop a community engagement strategy for project
    • ” WHO: Identify Stakeholders
    • ” WHAT: What are we trying to do
    • ” HOW: How do we go about doing it

Phase 2 – Design

  • Importance of mix – local small spaces as well as destination places. Local spaces, in particular, help to build social capital and community connections. Does your community have a play strategy? 
  • Children and families must always be included as part of the design process 
  • You can use the design process as community development opportunity.

Phase 3 – Delivery

  • Engage with the doers. Also the community – because what you build is never exactly what was designed
  • Keep stakeholders informed and engaged. Use local media, bloggers, and school newsletters

Phase 4 – Maintenance

  • Education process for maintenance team
  • Explanation of why things are designed as they are – use signage in parks, webpages
  • Give instructions on how equipment/spaces need to be maintained so that they “work” as intended

Phase 5 – Ongoing Engagement

  • Living engagement strategy
  • Information for families, visitors and all users to help with planning your visit. Websites etc.
  • Friends of the playground groups using online mediums like Facebook to arrange meet ups
  • Beyond practical completion

Inclusive Play Principle 5 –  Play Independence (I can do it myself)

What: Offers and encourages play experiences for people of all abilities thatpromote independence and sense of mastery.

Why: Enabling vs disabling. Inclusive not accessible


  • Plan and design for intergenerational activities.
  • Mixed ability activities
  • Problem solving/teamwork
  • Parent involvement
  • Offer and encourage play experiences for people of all abilities that promote independence and sense of mastery.
  • Graduated challenges that reflect to in keeping with developmental and holistic experience with ones world. – cognitive, physical, social, spiritual, aesthetic.)
  • Provide safe play spaces that allow the child and carer to trust/enjoy/relax/confident in the experience.
  • Opportunity for choice of activity eg: individual play, group play or creative and imaginative play, self reflection
  • Opportunity to self-initiate.

Inclusive Play Principle 6 – Friendship

What: Offers and encourages play experiences for people of all abilities that promote. Plan and

design for spaces to gather and share within or surrounding the playspace.

Why: Relationships are fostered by contribution. Promote social interaction.


  • Communal seating/gathering spaces
  • Creating talking points or meeting points.
  • Coffee shops
  • Plan and design for attractive activities that promote social interaction
  • Mixed ability activities
  • Teamwork/co-operation activities
  • Play together
  • Physical/design/activities/equip selection eg nets, sandpits
  • Landscape/plant design to promote hidey-holes and interesting landforms.
  • Plan and design for quiet spaces within play space
  • Areas to exit the social situation
  • Place for timeout and reflection
  • Opportunity to observe others
  • Choice


The Inclusive Playspace Guideline was created thanks to the generosity of time and IP donated by the following play champions:

  • Anita Bundy University of Sydney Professor in Department of Occupational Therapy
  • Anna Peterson Landcom Sustainability Manager NSW
  • Barbara Champion Play Australia Executive Officer
  • Ben Felton Penrith City Council Access Officer
  • Ben Richards City of Canada Bay Landscape Architect
  • Danny Dickson Children with Disability Australia Children and Youth Representative
  • Emma Husar Community Driver Touched by Olivia
  • Fiona Robbe Fiona Robbe Landscape Architects Principal
  • Gary Henshall Parks and Leisure Australia Manager
  • James Devereaux iPlaygrounds General Manager
  • Jenene Burke Univeristy of Ballarat Program Co-ordinator Joint degrees in Education
  • Jess Irwin Dare 2 B U Photographer
  • John Perkins Touched by Olivia Foundation Founding Director
  • Karen Malone Child Friendly Cities Asia Pacific Chair and Founder
  • Kate Bishop University of NSW Senior Lecturer Built Environment
  • Kate Fraser Kidsafe Playground Advisory Unit
  • Lisa Stafford Physical Disability Australia Board Member
  • Lucilla Marshall Epic Landscape Architects Principal
  • Margaret Spencer Parents with Intellectual Disability Australia Manager
  • Mary Jeavons Jeavons Landscape Architects Director
  • Rebecca Ho Touched by Olivia Foundation Executive Officer
  • Ric McConaghy RMPL Director
  • Sheridan Kerr University of Canberra
  • Simon Bradley City Of Burnside General Manager of Planning & Infrastructure
  • Simon Darcy University of Sydney Associate Professor Events, Sports & Tourism
  • Stephanie Gotlib Children with Disability Australia Executive Officer
  • Sue Wainwright Playgroup NT General Manager
  • Wendy Seymour City of Swan Landscape Architect
  • Sue Parker ARACY Paeditrician