Bec Paton had a vision that her two young girls would one day be able to play together side by side on a Ballarat playground.
Her 12-year-old daughter Sarah is profoundly physically and intellectually disabled.
That vision became a reality with the development of an inclusive play space at Victoria Park in 2016.
The idea stemmed from a playground in Sydney that catered for children of all types of abilities and disabilities.
“In 2012 I had the opportunity to visit it. I took lots of photos and took them back to the Disability Advisory Committee and said ‘I want this’,” Mrs Paton said.
She and a team of supporters led community fundraising for the playground after receiving support from the Disability Advisory Committee and City of Ballarat in partnership with the Touched by Olivia Foundation.
“I just love driving past and seeing people love it. For me, the big moment was on the opening day when Sarah was in a nest swing and a Dad came up and said ‘is it okay if my kids get on that as well?’,” Mrs Paton said.
“It dawned on me that it was not just my girls that could play together but Sarah could play with other kids.
“For her it has meant that she has got to interact with kids that she has never met before which happens at playgrounds, other kids do that all the time, but Sarah hadn’t. But also the kids who had been on the swing with her walk away realising she is not scary, and if you ask questions you can get real answers.”
Mrs Paton first moved to Ballarat from Melbourne with her husband in 2002. The pair were drawn to the city by a job opportunity and discovered a community where they could begin a family.
High quality and easily accessible disability services, including Ballarat Specialist School, has been ideal for the pair to care for Sarah’s needs, and kept them in Ballarat.
“The community feel to Ballarat has been a big part for us as well,” she said.
“People accept Sarah here. I haven’t felt any exclusion because of who Sarah is.
“Getting the playground was a lot of work but there was an awesome team of mostly mums of kids with special needs who were amazing. They are all so busy and have tricky families, but everyone pitched in. I see that a lot in Ballarat.”
Ballarat also offered Mrs Paton the opportunity to study at university to make a career change into disability services and special education.
She now works at Pinarc running parent support groups while serving on the City of Ballarat Disability Advisory Committee and the Grampians Disability Advisory Group.
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