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Accessibility and Inclusion Case Studies

Accessibility and Inclusion Case Studies

Key message

Any facility can be modified to increase accessibility for a greater range of people, including disabled people.


One in four New Zealanders have a disability of some kind, but only 10% of those are visible impairments. The following case studies show a range of ways that spaces and places can be made more inclusive for all impairment types, whether these are visible or invisible. 

Most facilities can be made welcoming and be used by everyone. Good physical design is an imperative for new facilities. Accessible spaces and places may allow you to ‘get there’ - but inclusivity means you want to stay and participate. Much of a person’s experience of place is created by those managing the facility. 

The flow-on effect of providing the right environment is to create an invitation to all users including anyone with small children, elderly people, all genders, and anyone temporarily impaired by illness, experiencing mental health challenges, or managing chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In these three case studies, we’ve looked at spaces and places successfully meeting the challenges of a range of audiences with differing needs. Also included are links to best practice, and some local and international examples of successful provision.

The Sport NZ National Spaces and Places Framework Principles reflected in these case studies are:

  • meeting an identified need
  • inclusive and accessible
  • co-design.

Lorna Irene Reserve Playground, Kāpiti Coast

Lorna Irene Reserve Playground with two tamariki playing on it

Key idea: Communicate effectively and consult

Neurodiverse people are often excluded from public space access because the planning and construction of our communities does not take into account the cognitive, sensory, and social variation inherent in our neurodiverse world. Public spaces are only accessible if they can be meaningfully used by everyone.

What’s different about this playground?

This is a truly accessible revamped playground which children of all abilities can use. As well as accessible equipment, the key difference is the provision of Communication Boards, or Coreboards. These meet the need for non-verbal or neurodiverse tamariki and rangatahi to make ‘meaningful use’ of the playground.

Coreboards enable children to understand and make use of the playground using communication styles they know. The Coreboards feature both English and Te Reo along with symbols.

The playground also includes:

  • an in-built ground trampoline
  • musical equipment
  • accessible playground equipment
  • a variety of sensory elements like mirrors, windows, musical walls, and ground games.
  • wheelchair accessible seesaw, roundabout, and tower and swings

For a full description of design elements, click here.

Lorna Irene Reserve Playground case study group

Consultation with community and advisors

Prior to design, Kāpiti Council staff consulted with the local community regarding changes to the playground.

Advice on the design, language, and placement of the boards came from speech language therapist Kristina Pinto and TalkLink Trust, as well as engagement with the Kāpiti District Council’s Disability Advisory Group, a mana whenua translator, local speech therapist Sarah Courtnage, and parents of non-speaking rangatahi Rebekah Corlett and Nicola Stoddard-Edmonds.

The playground was designed by Creo: The Playground Builders, and won Playground of the Year at the 2023 New Zealand Parks Awards.


“It's important that we continue to make the connections to really understand what our quieter members of the public need, because we know that play is in decline and we need to support it”

Cat Wylde, Kāpiti Coast District Council Play Projects Coordinator

“Communication boards in playgrounds empower our children to say YES! NO! PUSH ME HIGHER! GET OUT OF MY SPACE! I LIKE IT HERE! They can play alongside their siblings and peers and utilise it to engage more freely. No need for guessing or talking over/for them”.

– Rebekah Corlett, Parent

In summary

  • Engage with potential users from a variety of lived experiences before design phases through consultation: workshops, discussion groups, surveys.
  • Consult with experts.
  • Use communication styles that suit the intended users.
  • Physical accessibility using design guidelines and expert information from, for example, CCS Disability Access Advisory Services.

Ahei - the Accessible Tauranga Action and Investment Plan

Key idea: Equipment and facilities enabling better access

Council provides accessible equipment and facilities

Tauranga City Council provides a wide range of spaces and places for the community. Some of the inclusive accessibility equipment and facilities are:  

  • Hopukiore - Mount Drury Reserve has a fully accessible changing facility which includes a height adjustable toilet and sink, adult changing table, shower and hoist.
  • Four destinations around Tauranga provide beach access mats. This a portable rollout mat that creates a sturdy and visible access path to the beach. Anyone can use the matting, but it’s especially helpful for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, mobility scooters or strollers.
  • Accessible picnic tables across the city.
  • There are beach wheelchairs available for free hire
  • The TrailRider all-terrain wheelchair Te Kaiwhakatere gives disabled people access to the Mauao summit.

More information on these facilities is available here.

Accessible hotspots

In 2021 council developed a concept called an “accessible hotspot”, which is a geographic area with a concentrated number of accessibility initiatives, meaning disabled people can confidently go there with the knowledge it is an accessible place.  In 2022 council asked the community what makes a place accessible and inclusive for them. Since then Council have been making incremental upgrades toward this outcome. Types of completed and upcoming upgrades include:

  • Upgrades to mobility carparks, kerb cuts, and tactile pavers in Mount North. Future upgrade to Hopukiore Mount Drury Reserve playground
  • Upgrades to open spaces across our city, including new pathways, improved kerb cuts, accessible play equipment, accessible safety matting at playgrounds and accessible picnic sets

Accessible Tauranga Action and Investment Plan

In 2023 the Accessible Tauranga Action and Investment Plan was developed with input from the community, including the council’s older people and disability special interest groups. The council’s Disability Advisory Group also had input to the process.

Measures of success for the Accessible Tauranga project are detailed in the plan (page 8) and include: “We have access to safe outdoor spaces and amenities that encourage participation and connection, and encourage us to stay active.” One of the outcomes of this process is accessible beach facilities and equipment, which can be found at the Tauranga City Council website. and commitment to creation and implementation of Universal Design Guidelines

User feedback on the TrailRider all-terrain wheelchair

“I hadn't been up Mauao for nine years. Being able to go up again with my whānau was a gift. Before my accident, my partner and I would walk up at least twice a week carrying our daughter. What I loved about the TrailRider was that I was surrounded by my people - my kaiarahi. We laughed and chatted all the way as the kids walked up beside me.”

– Amanda Lowry, source:]

In summary

  • Existing locations made accessible for a greater number of participants.
  • Providing infrastructure support for users, such as fully accessible change facilities and toilets.
  • Equipment suitable for beach and track use available and pre-bookable.
  • Working with community to e to ensure that the needs and aspirations of our disability are being met.

Coastlands Aquatic Centre, Paraparaumu

Key idea: Design and modify the environment to suit the users

What are they doing differently, and how?

During the design and construction of Coastlands Aquatic Centre, the community raised concerns about access to the main pool. A hoist and stairs were initially installed in response to access concerns. A more inclusive approach started during the building process, with a co-ordinated stakeholder engagement workshop run with 22 local disability and aged care organisations to seek input on facility operations, equipment and programming.

The workshop identified the need for modifications to the design of the pool, training for staff, and timetable changes. A key adaptation was the installation of a removable ramp which met required building standards and was designed locally and finalised in consultation with disability advocates and a barrier-free auditor.

Forty-five per cent of users surveyed (in annual survey, 2015) had not previously engaged in any water based physical activity.

All facility staff now attend a disability awareness workshop run by Well-able within their first month of employment. This helps to create improved understanding and awareness of the impact of impairments (visible or not) on a person’s ability to participate, and the support they may need. Coastlands staff continue to have input and get feedback from a network of disability organisations.

“We aim to equip our staff with empathy, understanding and positivity to make our pools really inclusive, and we’re proud of how well they do.”

– Shelley Ashton, Aquatics Outreach and Ōtaki Pool Manager, Kāpiti District Council 

The centre gets feedback in person and via the annual survey, which reflects a high level of customer satisfaction.

Low sensory sessions will shortly be started at Ōtaki Pool, which is a quieter and smaller pool more appropriate for neurodiverse children.

This venue received a Platinum Award from Be.Accessible in 2017, the first ever awarded to a recreation centre, and the Outstanding Aquatic Facility Award from Recreation Aotearoa in 2015.

In summary

  • Consultation, design, modifications, ongoing staff training and customer feedback, along with expert advice, all contributed to making this centre both more accessible and inclusive to people with diverse needs.
  • Despite a challenging start, Kāpiti Council listened to the community, and worked with them to evolve an inclusive and accessible space.


The success of truly accessible spaces and places lies in the engagement of potential users with lived experience (or their advocates), involvement of disability experts and the application of accessible design guidelines. Staff training, good programme design and communications are equally important, along with supporting amenities, and access to equipment if needed.

At the heart of true inclusivity is the participant’s experience – their sense of comfort in the space and their ability to enjoy the experience.

While it is clearly not the only thing to consider in terms of inclusivity, the experiences of the neurodiverse community, particularly people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), tell us how some impairments are ‘marginalised’ in the greater disability space, and needs attention. For many people with ASD this means clear and unequivocal signalling in a range of communication modes about your facility, your programme, and what to expect from pre-visit through experience to after-visit. It means working with individuals and with their with advocates or support staff to identify needs. It means adapting and managing the environment to lower sensory overload and to provide ‘safe spaces’ for retreat. It means training staff to be confident to support individuals with ASD so that they can provide information, interact, assist, and learn from mistakes as they form relationships with participants on the spectrum. 

Such actions are the equivalent of the ‘wheelchair ramp’ for many with invisible disabilities and can make the difference between not turning up or long-term loyalty to your centre, your programmes and your staff.


Appendix: Best practice examples and other resources

Other inclusive design examples

Visit the Magical Bridge playground example in Hamilton.

The new playground was built in collaboration with Hamilton City Council and the Magical Bridge Trust - a charitable trust started by passionate members of the disability community.   The Trust’s mission is to create a fully inclusive playground that removes barriers for individuals and families with physical or neurological disabilities, and is designed to include everyone, no matter their age or ability.

An inclusive environment and programme example can be seen at a sensory swimming/play session at Pioneer Pool in Canterbury. 

For neurodivergent people (and many others), knowing what to expect, and experiencing a welcoming environment can make the difference between loyal customer and non-user.  Aspects such as low lighting, sound, visual clues, pre-attendance material, modes of communication that suit, structured programmes, staff who understand their needs, privacy and an opportunity to give feedback all contribute to a positive, repeatable experience.

Design guidelines

The University of Tasmania has released design guidelines for inclusive play spaces that are based in a deep literature review of the needs of children with ASD, and intend to provide inclusive design strategies for all children across a broader spectrum of diversity.

Blind Low Vision NZ Accessibility Guidelines focus on how to provide a more accessible experience for people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision.

Design strategies

Read HOK’s six universal strategies for creating inclusive environments:

  • Accessible and informative design
  • Sensory-responsive environments
  • Flexible and comfortable spaces
  • Biophilia
  • Quiet and private retreats
  • Movement and engagement

Other resources

INSIGHTS: Invisible Disabilities (Recreation Aoteroa)

Resources such as the Hapai access card and Air New Zealand’s sunflower lanyard provide subtle clues to trained staff about the support that wearers might need while accessing a facility or a programme, and also provide training.

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