Thursday, June 27, 2013

It's heads down, tails up in Butterfly Land today. As End Of Financial Year looms, it's all about finalising funding for projects. That means a STACK of grant submissions. 

To all our friends who are preparing their tax returns and thinking about who to donate all that excess cash to, don't forget Touched by Olivia. Every donation over $2 is deductible, and goes directly to the projects we are working on across Australia. 100% of all funds raised. Yep, you read correctly. Just click the link below, or for more information, get in touch with us by clicking here

Monday, June 24, 2013

GUEST BLOG: What Livvi’s Place means to one family with special needs

Today's guest blog is from the awesome Julie Jones, author of Have Wheelchair, Will Travel - a travel review site that chronicles the adventures of her family of four as they traipse all over the countryside and beyond. It's full of great information and helpful hints that will inspire you to get out there and amongst it. 

There were certain things I always imagined I’d do with my children as they grew up.  One of the activities I took for granted as part of parenting, was going to the park.

When our son was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy our world changed but our expectations didn’t.  Always positive we figured we’d find a way around what we call, “tricky situations”. Going to the park when our son was little was managed by sitting him on our lap to swing, carrying him up to the slide and getting him involved as much as possible.   As he grew, getting up the slide became more difficult and there was less he could do at the park.  By this stage we had our daughter.  Despite her being of an ideal age for the park, it became a place I hated because it was an environment that highlighted our son’s disability.  We always believed in living life positively and it was hard to do that at the park.  Our son had become an observer rather than a participant and we didn’t like that.

We avoided playgrounds for many years.  We then read about Livvi’s Place and decided to venture to the park again.  We had visited parks that were deemed ‘all abilities’ but didn’t find there was much to do if you were using a wheelchair.

We were blown away by Livvi’s Place at Timbrell Park. The ideas incorporated into the park were insightful and well thought out.  So many families were enjoying the park seemingly oblivious to exactly how fabulous the park was for anyone with special needs.  I felt like telling them but it occurred to me, not only would they think me loopy, but how wonderful it was that they just saw the park as a fun, ‘normal’ park.  We quietly revelled in the fact that it was so inclusive and were delighted that things were changing.

Our son rode the merry-go-round in his wheelchair and enjoyed being surrounded by other kids.  He waited with anticipation and excitement as the timer counted down to ‘go’.   He enjoyed the musical bells on the ground and many of the other features of the park.

Spurred on by our successful visit to Timbrell Park we decided to go to the Livvi’s playground at Yamble Reserve.  The park is close to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance where we spent many years doing therapy.  How I wish this was there years ago as a treat at the end of therapy or as a meeting place for our CP Alliance mothers group.   How wonderful for parents to now have this space to explore and enjoy.

At Yamble Reserve our son did something he’d never been able to do before – a flying fox.  You cannot imagine the grin or the squeal of delight as he whizzed across in the flying fox seat with his sister enjoying the experience on the flying fox on the other side. 

There is so much to learn from play and from playing side by side with your peers no matter their ability.  How wonderful to have a place to meet friends and family that is inclusive.  Socialising can often be difficult when you have a family member with a disability.  Ensuring they feel included in a day out is important and Livvi’s playgrounds make this possible.   Our son has spent so much time in therapy when other kids have been playing.  I just love for his opportunities to play to be successful.
Every suburb should have one of these parks because we can all learn a lot from being an inclusive society - AND just as importantly…………… it’s FUN!!    

Monday, June 17, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Alison from Project Flying Fox

Recently we came across a project to encourage the creation of more fully accessible public bathrooms. Our interest was pricked here at Touched by Olivia, as it is a crucial part of the creation of our inclusive playspaces to ensure all the surrounding infrastructure is upgrading - including accessible amenities. We support Allison and Project Flying Fox, and hope you will sign her petition and get on board, too. Allison shares her mission below.

Just gotta pee? Me too... only it's complicated.  Wanna know why?
My Name's Allison. I like sport, music and time with my friends, no ladies and gents, I'm not looking for a date!
I have what the system calls high and complex needs Cerebral Palsy and I can't toilet myself independently . I'm 32 and have a uni education.  I also have a life beyond my restrictions.
I  work within the community services sector and have done in various roles. With the NDIS on its way to becoming a reality [we hope], comes an increase in opportunities for participation. However, with the increase in OHS restrictions and the trend away from mobile hoists, my ability to go to the toilet in a public disabled bathroom is SEVERELY restricted. 
My abilities are such that, I can do enough to manage to go to the toilet, sitting on and in a pan IN my chair. I'm capable of all of this on a good day when i'm not tired. I'm grateful on a bad day, that i know where all of the ceiling hoists are in the region. This has taken research on my part. 
I have 2 concerns.... 
  1. The hoists that exist, get very little publicity and 
  2. There aren't enough of them. 
With all of my education and life experience, my able bodied and dear friend Jodie Schutte summed it up best.

So here's something that a lot of people take for granted... being able to go to the toilet when away from their own home. Whether it be while shopping, on holidays, at a sporting or entertainment event, there's so many people who can't just assume that a toilet will be accessible to them. Let's tell our government that it's not OK for any sort of venue to discriminate against these people.
Sign the petition here
If you'd like more info email OR like our Facebook page.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jay's Anthem

We are so lucky at Touched by Olivia to have an amazing, dedicated ambassador in Jay Laga'aia. Jay is a super dad, super man, super human, who has been with us since the start.

Over the years, Jay has been playing with the idea of a song for Touched by Olivia, and recently the creative flood came. The anthem is the result! 
Yesterday, we hosted a Play Day ... and whilst artfully dodging the potential of electrocution, our Jay premiered the song he had poured his heart into, which he titled Livvi's Place.

We're looking forward to sharing the tune with you when Jay returns from his tour in his motherland; in the meantime, here's the lyrics... you can memorise them for the official launch of the Butterfly Choir!


Words and Music by Jay Laga'aia.

There’s a boy who sit a top,
A wheelie chair he dreams a lot.
A race car Champion,
He zooms around the track!

There’s a girl with training legs,
She’s trying hard and turning heads.
Her steps are very small,
but she gets there and comes back.

To put a smile upon their face,
I think they’d like my special place
Where they can...
Fly and Run and Jump and Swing,
They can play and do most anything.

There’s a joy that can be found
In this wonderous playground.
Full of happiness,
You’re welcome here at Livvi’s Place!

Where the familes stay all day
All kinds of people come to play
Have a picnic,
You’re welcome here at Livvi’s Place.

Instrumental. Middle 8;
From a memory born
From a time forelorn
When this idea formed
It was Livvi’s Place!

You can bring a friend,
The fun will never end,
Our hopes and joy we send,
Here at Livvi’s Place!

Mums and Dads can see their child who hasn’t smiled for quite a while
Play a melody, slide with friends for fun, Climb a rope tower up to the sun,
Build a Castle, Laugh, do so much more, Ride a Carousel, close your eyes and soar!

There’s a joy that can be found
In this wonderous playground.
Full of happiness,
You’re welcome here at Livvi’s Place!

Where the familes stay all day
All kinds of people come to play
Have a picnic,
You’re welcome here at Livvi’s Place. x 2

There’s a boy who sits a top
A Flying Fox he laughs a lot
His friends are helping him
He loves here at Livvi’s Place

There’s a girl with training legs
She banging music out instead
A wood block symphony
She loves it here at Livvi’s Place,
You’ll love it here at Livvi’s Place.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some of our favourite blogs

A decade ago, you would find my head stuck in a magazine or journal, or a copy of the newspaper. My daily routine now includes reading the latest posts on my favourite blogs - in particular those that focus on play and inclusion.

For all the other blog lovers out there, I thought I would share my list. Currently I read them through bloglovin, a great site that bookmarks all my faves and sends me a daily digest -   this stops me from missing any updates, without clogging my inbox.

It's probably the most user friendly blog reading site I've used so far.

  • Keeping it real in the hyped up world of over parenting. Lenore writes funny and meaningful posts about parenting in the big, bad 21st century with a focus on the outcome - developing resilience and offering life experiences to children.
  • Canadian based Alex Smith, sharing all things play, with a strong social science flavour and lots of great images and guest posts.
  • Paige Johnson shares the history of play and the most exciting, creative and innovative playscapes from all over the world. 
  • View from the playground: US charity, Shane's Inspiration, shares wonderful stories about communities connecting through play. Shane's Inspiration IS an inspiration to us, with the creation of over 40 accessible playspaces and a number of fantastic programs in place across the US since they started in 1997. 
  • Landscape Structures is a US based manufacturer of play equipment, we love the promotion of play through competition giveaways and look forward to an Aussie supplier partnering with us in the future in the same way!
  • A great blog of all things green, creative and outdoors. 
  • This blog is filled with cool stuff hunted from all over the globe. We love the kids spaces... 

What are your favourite blogs? Share them with us so we can add them to our reading list

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Let the children play

Today we have organised a play date for you - a guest blog from Deep Kick Girl. DKG writes about food, family and popular culture at her very funny and informative blog We love her and think you might, too. 

As a parent of two rapidly growing children and a former child myself I feel relatively confident to speak on the subject of playgrounds. Universally they are places for children to explore, create, play, set up adventures, escape and let off that infinite amount of energy children are blessed with. They are places for both children and parents to socialise, relax, find and build friendships.

Such crucial parts of every community.

I had never considered the needs of children with a physical disability and the fact that playgrounds did not come close to being suitable for so many families.

The first time I saw a Liberty Swing I was perplexed but in a totally dumb way thought “wow, that's great, someone is doing something for kids with disabilities”. Because I'm not so smart or observant it took me quite a lot of time to realise I had never seen anyone using a Liberty Swing. It took even longer before I found out that most (maybe all) are locked and require a key from the council to unlock them for use.

Which raised the question: WTF? (I'm nothing if not eloquent.) How tokenistic and insulting. Sure it's well meaning but it's not until you have been to a Livvi's Place Playground that you realise how it's very much not good enough.

What you notice at Livvi's Place, if you choose to take a moment to consider such things, is that they are designed by people who truly believe in and understand the idea of inclusion. Not in the idea of giving a token to appease the disabled lobby but in the idea of creating truly beautiful, well designed, functional play spaces where every family and every child can find fun in a safe environment.

I love that the playgrounds are enclosed. What a no-brainer! Every child is a potential runner and I have spent many terrifying moments searching for my children in playgrounds and one very memorable afternoon chasing my son across the vast open spaces of Bicentennial Park.

I love the sensory features which appeal to children with Autism and other sensory needs. Things which are interesting to touch, things which make interesting noises. How perfectly simple and wonderful.

The thing is inclusive means “for all” not “for some”. Driven by the amazing people at the Touched by Olivia Foundation you can see the care, love and attention to detail with which every Livvi's Place is built to be enjoyed by all

I am a cynical old cow and have very little faith in bureaucracy doing good for society unless it's by accident or when goaded into action by people who truly care and live in the real world.

I don't often get emotional but at the opening of Livvi's Place Ryde a few months ago I came pretty close. The culmination of so much work, literally blood, sweat and tears; it was so touching. Being friends with the dynamic Bec Ho I know a little of what goes into such a playground. Co-ordinating the many interested parties: the council, the community, the sponsors.

But in the end it's about the children. As I walked around that afternoon and watched them joyfully explore the new play equipment the happy tears flowed. I thought about the sad story behind the creation of the Touched by Olivia Foundation and I thought about how beautiful it was that strong people could turn tragedy into something amazing and I though about how for all the bad people and all the bad things in this world there are people who work selflessly for a better world. I listened to Jay Laga'aia play his ukelele and make happy music for the happy families and for a brief moment in time my cynicism faded away and I was filled with peace and calm and a little bit of faith in humanity.

But then I went home and went back to my normal self, don't worry.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


No, this is not a post about those pesky head vermin that all parents of school age children greet with a groan and a swag of remedies. 

This is a story about why we are so committed to two. little. words. 

To some people, the words don't matter. It's about the experience. Whether you call it an all abilities playground, barrier free, accessible, the end result is the same. 

Ruby demonstrating the nest swing at Livvi's Place Brisbane. This piece of equipment is inclusive because it can be used intuitively and can create an opportunity for social interaction. We love nest swings!

We disagree. When you are in the "business" of advocacy like we are, it is important to develop a really clear message - except our message is more of an invitation. To everyone. When we start our process of creating a Livvi's Place, we are asking all members of the community we are building with to come together and help, or share their needs and vision. 

The site selection process is a crucial step in making sure an inclusive playspace works. The surrounding infrastructure and amenties help us to make the place a real community hub; things like BBQ and picnic space, amenties blocks that are fully accessible and adjoining playing fields and grassed areas means there is something for everyone

We are not making playspaces that are purely accessible. We are including everyone, full stop. Livvi's Place playspaces need to be somewhere you'd be comfortable meeting a friend to run or walk a few laps; grab a coffee and have a chat; host the family reunion, or birthday party. They are not just for mothers of toddlers. They are for our older generation, looking for a lovely place to spend some time in their community. There is no entry fee, or hierachy. 

In the near future... 

  • We hope to drop the word inclusive. 
  • We hope that adults of all ages feel welcome at Livvi's Place.
  • We hope that all new or upgraded public spaces are designed with the Universal Design Principles at front of mind. 
  • We will expand our Livvi's Place National Network so that every community with a need will have a Livvi's Place like Five Dock, Dubbo, Brisbane, Campbelltown, Ryde and St Albans will very soon enjoy!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Planning for the future...

It's always a big job, putting together our strategy. Referencing, writing, rewriting, formatting, cross referencing. It could be a never ending job. Always a tweak here, and shift there, a new word replacement.

That's why it's almost as exciting as opening a Livvi's Place when we finally finish it! The last document was printed in time for our Sydney Butterfly Ball in 2011, and has delivered some fantastic results, opened many doors and elevated Touched by Olivia. 

The message remains the same (inclusion through play), but we have spread our program reach to include a five school inclusive playspace pilot project. 

To review the strategy, please click here.  We would love your feedback and of course, we are always looking for assistance. 

So, how you can help us?
Our goal for an inclusive society connected through play can become a reality with your support.
  • We need government endorsement and funding.
  • We seek corporate sponsorship – pro bono and financial, as well as skilled staff volunteers.
  • We love community drivers and advocates who help us bring projects to life in towns all over Australia.
  • Most of all, we ask you to help us spread the word about the benefits of inclusive play.

For more information, call Bec Ho on 0414 506 606 or email her. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

A place for everyone to play

Justine Perkins shared the story behind the Touched by Olivia Foundation with Webchild last month.

In a stark white hospital room, it's hard to imagine feeling anything but fear, helplessness and pain. When we left the hospital the day our daughter Olivia died of lymphatic malformation, we couldn't help but feel for the families we left behind. We hoped their outcome would be different; that they would leave with their little ones in their arms. However, we knew the reality was that although many do, there are many who don't.

I knew there must be something else to our tragedy, some kind of silver lining. My husband, John, and I wanted to create a legacy in Olivia's honour that symbolised the life she had missed. In our short stay in hospital we had been touched by the many families and brave children we met, and we knew our efforts needed to revolve around children.

Within four weeks we had established our charity, which we called the Touched by Olivia Foundation. A strategy aimed at creating healthier and happier lives for children was devised, and we gave the foundation a beautiful butterfly logo made from Olivia's handprints. We knew Olivia's touch would always be with us.

Making Foundations

When my first child was born, I joined a local mothers' group, and many babies between us later, we are still a tight-knit group. Playgrounds and play spaces became our meeting places, and we swapped stories about sleepless nights, settling, feeding and dealing with two year olds' tantrums.
Before Olivia fell sick, I read an article about an all-abilities playground in NSW. The article struck a chord with me for two reasons: it introduced the concept of play spaces that cater for children regardless of ability, and it highlighted that our children, for a variety of reasons mostly within our control, are getting fatter, sicker and sadder. Later, this article informed the nature of our foundation.

Naturally, we wanted to look further into the disease that took Olivia's life, so we formed a partnership with Sydney Children's Hospital to research and provide clinical assistance in the field of vascular birthmarks, the family of diseases that included Olivia's condition.

We also recognised there were many children who didn't or couldn't play, whether through sickness, accident, family circumstances or simple accessibility. Playgrounds seemed the perfect focus for us, and we felt it was up to our foundation to help change the state of play for all.

As a result, our strategy became two-tiered:
• Partnering with Sydney Children's Hospital on vascular-birthmarks research and clinical fellowship.
• Creating a network of inclusive play spaces around Australia.

Play Spaces: More Than Meets The Eye
Touched by Olivia opened its first Livvi's Place inclusive play space at Timbrell Park in Five Dock, NSW, in 2009. Its development involved many meetings with the local council and in-depth community consultation. We spoke to everyone, including the local community, playgroups, schools for children with special needs, parents of children with a disability, carers, grandparents, landscape architects, construction companies and corporate sponsors. We visited dozens of playgrounds, read dozens of articles and fundraised like crazy. A site was chosen at an existing local playground in desperate need of an upgrade. We shared our vision with the many people involved, and although we received some pessimistic responses, most of the feedback was helpful.

Play is a fundamental part of childhood, and according to the United Nations, it is a child's right to enjoy play and leisure. But there is so much to learn. Physical disabilities, coupled with childhood disorders, and the ever-changing demographic of stay-at-home carers, meant every detail needed to be considered if we were to be truly inclusive. It wasn't simply about plonking a Liberty Swing at the side of the playground and building a few ramps up to a slippery slide. It meant designing and sourcing custom-made, accessible and intergenerational play equipment and amenities, incorporating accessible pathways, passive areas, sensory and tactile play and artworks, graduated challenges, points of recognition and visual cues, fencing, accessible parking and bus drop-off zones.

Livvi's Place at Five Dock has become a valued community asset, and we now have Livvi's Place play spaces in Brisbane, and in Campbelltown, Dubbo and Ryde in NSW. We aim to have 10 inclusive play spaces around Australia by the end of 2013, with more than 20 in development.

Touched by Olivia was awarded the 2011 World Leisure International Innovation Prize for its national inclusive-play-space network, and the foundation is fielding more and more calls from communities wanting these kinds of play spaces.

Last year Touched by Olivia received a Federal Government grant to create a best-practice guide for people looking to build an inclusive play space. The foundation developed six simple guidelines, which are:
• Everyone can play
• Access to nature
• Total experience
• A connection with community
• Play independence – I can do it myself
• Friendship – social participation.

Touched by Olivia's commitment is to inspire, influence and include through play. Olivia would have liked that.