2019 NALG profile – Moreton Bay Regional Council, QLD

A Queensland council’s program for children who have special needs such as low-sensory environments, that began in its libraries and has now expanded to art galleries and museums, has received the National Award for Local Government Disability Access and Inclusion category.

The Backstage Pass program, operated after hours by Moreton Bay Regional Council and partner community organisation Sensory Souls at three library branches, aims to help families living with autism, and others who need individual environments, to feel safe and welcome.

“We are working towards ensuring there are no obstacles for anyone who wants to pursue their dreams in Moreton Bay so congratulations to all staff involved in creating this terrific program,” Acting Mayor, Mike Charlton, said.

Council’s Program Lead, Kerry Griffith, said the council saw a growing need for sensory supportive environments to help families living with autism –– link to the recreational learning and literacy activities offered by libraries and expanded this concept to include our art galleries and museums. Autism is a condition affecting about 1 in 70 Australians.

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“Backstage Pass provides increased access to library resources and recreational opportunities, and builds community productivity and resilience,” Kerry said.

During the sessions, lights are dimmed and sounds are kept to a minimum and the environment is made welcoming.

It features a range of experiences including sensory storytime, music and scarf play, nursery rhymes, bubbles, pixel art, 3D augmented reality, and exploring technology.

“Participants’ favourite part of the evening is the ‘back stage’ session where they go behind the scenes to see how the library is run, how the photocopier works, where staff receive all the new books, where the robots live and so on,” Kerry explained.

“Parents and carers tell us often of their gratitude in being able to attend Backstage Pass.

“We are achieving our aim too which is to break down the barriers, mainly for parents who are worried about coming to a library where ‘shhh’ is still the stereotype and where they are worried their child’s behaviour will create issues for them.

“We now have some of these families coming during regular opening hours. This will enable their children to feel welcome in libraries, galleries and museums throughout their lives.”

Kerry has numerous examples of positive reactions from the families and carers of Backstage Pass participants.

One respite foster carer attends Friday night sessions with seven children she cares for over the weekend. The carer says the program gives valuable space and interaction for the children, and supports the carer to look after the children to give their families time out.

Another child, a 10-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis who rarely socialised began interacting with others and walked on ‘balancing balls’, gaining skills and confidence her mum and grandmother says she did not previously have, Kerry said.

“Our program has changed this young girl’s interaction with people and supports her mum tremendously with a place to go that is welcoming.”

Kerry said feedback from another parent summed up the Backstage Pass experience.

“Hi, I just want to say thank you for organising the Backstage library event last night. My son really enjoyed it. He is still wearing or putting his lanyard with his name around his neck and telling me, ” this is my name”. The staff were excellent with my son. The activities were really organized, interesting and lots of choices. And very nonjudgmental environment. For once I don’t have to worry what people think or say to me or my son!! Thanks a million!!”

Moreton Bay Regional Council was also highly commended for The Mill in the ‘Contributing to Regional Growth’ category, and Cultivate the Arts in the ‘Arts Animates – creating vibrant and cohesive communities through the Arts’ category.

The National Awards judging panel said the Rural City of Wangaratta (VIC) was highly commended for its film, Same Same But Different, which celebrates and raises awareness about Wangaratta residents who have a disability.

Image: Children play during a Backstage Pass session in a library organised by Moreton Bay Regional Council. Photo courtesy MBRC.