Julia Sterman

Date of Submission



Introduction: Play is a right for all children and an essential childhood occupation. Yet, children with disabilities experience exclusion from outdoor play participation. How children’ skills interact with the environment in which they live, notably their family, school, and community, shapes their play choice.

Aim: The aim of this study was to understand outdoor play decision-making at family, school, and local government levels for primary school-age children with disabilities. Method: A multiple-perspective case study allowed for comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon of outdoor play decision-making. Data collection included: interviews with five parents of children with disabilities, four teaching assistants, three special education teachers, one vice principal, four local government employees, and two employees of not-for-profit organizations within one culturally and linguistically diverse local government area; one week parent survey of their child’s play the day before; observations at school and community playgrounds; document review; and video-assisted recall with four school employees. Analysis was guided by cross-case analysis, interpretive description, and analytical deduction and involved first understanding individual perspectives, and then considering similarities and differences within and between stakeholder groups. Discussions are considered through the application of the capabilities approach.

Findings: Families valued and planned for play within the context of their child’s interests and abilities and their family’s needs. Schools had low play expectations and considered the children’s presence on the playground sufficient. When considering playgrounds, local government focused on meeting minimal requirements and physical access rather than social inclusion. School and local government’s predominately-negative perception of children with disabilities and their families affected meaningful engagement.

Conclusion: Children experienced greater play choice within their families than at school or in the community. Families should continue to value play as a means and ends, and plan for play based on their values and their child’s interests. To increase play choice and inclusion, the school needs to increase play expectations for children with disabilities and better support the play environment. Local government must increase meaningful engagement with families, and consider how to support the entire family’s playground inclusion. Finally, inclusive language should be modelled across ecocultural levels.


School of Allied Health

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Health Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.