Keith Park All Abilities Playground is the first (and only) recognised ‘All Abilities’ playground fully funded by Auckland Council and the Local Community Board. It opened to the public in 2020, and in that same year won the Playground Of The Year Award.
Auckland has two other playgrounds purpose-built for all-abilities, located at Long Bay and at Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore. Extensive funding for both these playgrounds was raised by local charities, philanthropists and businesses. This maybe why Auckland Council recognises the Keith Park playground as Auckland’s first.
Council and Manurewa Local Board members co-designed the playground with a range of disability organisations: Acorn Autism, Blind Low Vision NZ, CCS Disability Action, Deaf Aotearoa, Talking Matters and The Pride Project. Collectively they came together and called themselves The All Abilities Project Group. Inspiration came from the local disability community and the Local Board Chair, Joseph Allan, whose family were fortunate to have had a young wheelchair user staying with them for nine months. She grew up in Weymouth and was unable to play with her siblings at the old Keith Park playground.
“Lived experience teaches us how infrastructure needs to become more inclusive”Tweet
Keith Park Playground is located at the entrance of the Pahurehure Inlet overlooking the Manukau Harbour. Te Pua/Keith Park itself is a recreational area that attracts boating, fishing, swimming and picnics. It is also home to a rowing club and the Weymouth Scout Group. The Maori name, Te Pua, meaning ‘the blossom’ was the name given to a chieftainess of the local iwi, Te Waiohua.
You can read more about this area’s strong Maori history here.
We encountered no problems finding a parking space here. On arrival we found five free mobility parks located to the left as you drive in. The carpark terrain is flat and tar-sealed and dedicated for the playground and picnic areas beside the waterfront. Plenty of green grass and natural shade can be found under a mix of native and impressively large trees.
If you are looking for a playground in Auckland that is fenced, has good parking with inclusive play equipment enabling children to play alongside each other, then Keith Park All Abilities playground is a good choice. The fencing around the playground has a height between 152/164 cm. The gates have a visible push button on one side and a latch on the other. There is good visibility all around the playground in order to supervise children. A fence alone gives grandparents, parents in wheelchairs and parents with children who love to run off the chance to relax.
You will find anti-slip terrain used throughout the playground with bright coloured way-finding with soft safe fall surfacing. The colours contrast well for those with any vision impairments.
The surface is perfect for walkers and wheelchairs to access the entirety of the playground. As well as the children themselves, this is a perfect place for parents and grandparents in wheelchairs to support their children in play.
I love these Communication Boards, we’ve seen them used overseas and it is wonderful to see them being introduced in New Zealand. Many children who are non-verbal are taught this form of communication in schools and its an excellent way to introduce their language into our playgrounds. As well as communication boards you will find sign language used around the pathways. They even have signage to assist our deaf community. Wonderful awareness and inclusivity being taught to children as they play.
There are three different swing options provided for children. The mother and baby option being a relatively new swing element that I hadn’t come across before. The basket swing is always a recognisable option for excellent inclusive play. We used to have fun with this type when were able to assist Finlay into it. His two siblings would lie alongside and support him. These days, now he’s bigger, lifting has become essential with a hoist or two person lift.
One option I feel is missing here is a high back swing with a five point harness. The high back gives head support to children who lack upper-body strength and head control.
Special Needs Adaptive Rope Swing
I enjoy seeing the carousel in every playground, a fantastic solution that invites everyone in. This particular style has a wide entrance space allowing a wheelchair user more freedom of movement. It also provides for good interaction and independent access. Great play element for everyone to enjoy.
This net see-saw is wide with a rope either side to assist with balance. It is designed for children to be able to lie, sit, stand and walk to create the see-saw motion together. I always imagine how my Finlay would use equipment, this see-saw could have worked back in the day I could still lift him. However, even then he would have had to sit on my lap as the see-saw provides minimal support in sitting. There is also the potential to get his hands or feet trapped in the netting. This see-saw is described as ‘inclusive’ it is always hard to source any piece of equipment that can be truly described as fully inclusive. All the same this would provide endless fun for many other abilities, including children who are more independent wheelchair users.
These in-ground ‘rolli’ trampolines are another great option for a piece of inclusive play equipment. They are designed to take a manual wheelchair user. However, I’m not sure whether it would appreciate the weight our Finlay’s powerchair.
This would be our Finlay’s favourite bit as he loves music, especially drums. When I first saw these I thought they were designed for leaping over or jumping along. Then, I saw children playing them, creating the different sounds as they moved along the sizes. So, these play elements have a multi-use which is an excellent cost saving option in any playground. They are also just the right height for a wheelchair user to join in with their friends.
Water Fountain, Talk Tubes and Picnic Bench
A wheelchair accessible water fountain, interactive accessible talk tubes to interact with others and a picnic bench. The picnic bench would have been perfect if it allowed a wheelchair user to sit up to it and be part of the conversation more. I have seen some excellent inclusive designs cropping up in other parts of New Zealand.
Activity Board’s and Musical Path
I do like this area as it has designed elements for a wheelchair user to use alongside those who love to climb and hang by their arms from equipment. The wooden part of the walkway has bells on it that sing out when you wheel over them. The activity boards are just at the right height to access from sitting, allowing engagement with other children.
What would have made this space even more inclusive is if the bark was removed and the soft safe fall surfacing carried through. Then designing an area to incorporate an accessible bar parallel to the floor for the ‘monkey-bars’ to accommodate the more independent wheelchair user. I know how self-propelling wheelies love to show off their upper body strength.
Access to the Lookout
There is an easy non-slip path that effortlessly takes you up to the Lookout over a bridge and onto great space for wheelchairs. If you fancy using the slide to head down it’s at an easy wheelchair accessible height. Talk tubes, a telescope and a NZ sign language communication board welcomes everyone to interact. The view from up here is stunning looking over the park, beach and out across the Manukau Harbour.
The playground has two accessible toilets, one has a baby change table and the other has an adult/child change table. The Exeloo designed toilets have an easy push button with Braille to automatically open the door.
The Adult/Child Change Table
Now, I’m definitely not overly enamoured with the adult/child change table here. In fact I wouldn’t even mention the adult/child change table if I didn’t feel it needed pointing out. Firstly, I measured the length of this so-called change bed at 187 cm. Council describes this toilet as being an adult sized changing room. I’m not sure how it passed as that by the All-Abilities Project Group. Maybe they weren’t all consulted on the toilet facilities and left it to the public toilet provider, Exeloo, to come up with the solution?
Firstly, there is no hoist, so I’m not sure how anyone is going to lift an older child or adult up onto it. Secondly, there is no safety rail, so the caregiver will not be able to stray too far from the task at hand. Lastly, the comfort level of being laid down on what resembles a cold kitchen bench is non-existent. Consider the person’s sensitive skin and potential pressure areas. They do provide a bin, a hook and some paper towels, but really it’s all a bit of a waste if you can’t lift someone onto the ‘change bed’ or bench as I’d call it. The toilet itself is pretty standard, but unusable if anyone needed a caregiver to assist. The sink is accessible along with the mirror, you can see me waving as I take the photo.
The perfect example of what should have been built is this Changing Place in Hamilton.
The second toilet is a standard accessible toilet with a baby change table included. The person putting the COVID QR poster up obviously didn’t give it much thought.
“Considering these toilets were designed to be fully inclusive, they fail to accommodate for the needs of both the carer and wheelchair user.”Kimberly Graham
Other ‘All-Abilities’ Playgrounds in Auckland
Takapuna Beach review coming soon!