Accessible parks policy

Addressing barriers to national parks for people with disability.

Accessible Parks Policy

National parks are places for connecting with nature, culture and heritage. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the experience and the benefits that come from visiting a park.

The benefits of access to national parks are well known. These include increased wellbeing, better physical and mental health, independence, dignity, social integration and improved quality of life for individuals, friends and family.

Barriers limiting people's ability to access parks and enjoy these benefits can include a combination of physical obstacles, a lack of information, or inadequate services or assistance.

Barriers to accessing parks are often most acutely experienced by people with disability. However, everyone may experience access barriers at different times in their lives, including older people, when caring for young children, or experiencing illness or medical conditions.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) manages parks and reserves across all types of landscapes, which can include historic buildings and cultural sites. Some of these places present particular challenges for reducing or removing barriers to access.

NPWS will continue to improve accessibility to help everyone experience and connect with national parks.

Scope and purpose

This policy aims to provide a framework for improving access to national parks by integrating accessibility considerations into the planning and management of national parks and the opportunities they provide for visitors, volunteers and the community.

This policy addresses the barriers to accessing national parks and visitor experiences that are faced by people with disability.

This policy is based on a social model of disability that recognises that attitudes, practices and structures are disabling and can prevent people from enjoying places and participating in experiences, rather than an inevitable result of a disability. The aim is to change how national parks are managed to accommodate people living with disability, rather than expecting people with disability to change.

This is in line with the department's Disability inclusion action plan and recognised by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This policy does not address:

  • employment or other workplace matters
  • costs including park use fees, accommodation, tours, experiences
  • policy or processes relating to access to Country for Aboriginal people, as these topics are covered in other policy documents.

NPWS acknowledges that for many people, accessibility and inclusion can encompass a broader range of issues, including language, culture, socioeconomic considerations and gender. While this policy focuses on improving accessibility for people with disability, NPWS will continue to seek opportunities to ensure that everyone feels welcome in national parks.


This policy is guided in its use of language and definitions by the department's Disability inclusion action plan and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

References in the policy to national parks mean all parks and reserves managed by NPWS (see Application).

Guiding principles

NPWS recognises:

  • the health and wellbeing benefits of access to national parks for all people
  • the landscapes, cultural and historic heritage protected by national parks can present a range of barriers to access that can impact people with disability
  • barriers to accessing national parks may have compounding impacts on Aboriginal people, for whom health and wellbeing is tied to the management and health of their Country and being able to care for and access Country and its resources
  • disability is diverse and may not be visible to others
  • disability is unique to the person and only they can decide what is accessible to them
  • good information is critical to empowering people with disability to decide whether to visit a place or participate in an experience
  • considering and planning for accessibility, and the inclusion of people with disability in the planning and decision-making process, should be 'business as usual'
  • considering and planning for accessibility should address the many ways in which people connect with national parks, including passive and active engagement in recreational, educational and cultural activities
  • people that experience barriers to access should have the opportunity to participate in finding solutions to those barriers
  • accessible facilities or experiences in national parks are only one component of the whole visitor journey
  • it will not always be feasible to provide physical access to national parks for all people.


NPWS will:

  • identify and aim to remove barriers to services, facilities and experiences offered by NPWS. This includes improving information, promotion and other systems that enable people to discover, book, and navigate those opportunities
  • identify and remove barriers to people engaging and collaborating with NPWS in the management of national parks and reserves. This includes participating in volunteering activities, advisory bodies, and consultation processes
  • engage and consult with those experiencing barriers in accessing national parks, visitor facilities and visitor experiences, to identify solutions and opportunities
  • where possible, apply the principles of universal design
  • monitor progress in improving accessibility to national parks
  • strategically apply available resources to improve accessibility across the NSW parks system and target the needs of people facing barriers to access.


  1. NPWS will plan and design new facilities and projects to deliver improved accessibility outcomes and increase the range of opportunities for people with disability across national parks, wherever possible.
  2. NPWS will review and identify opportunities to improve access to existing facilities, including public-facing offices, visitor and education centres, visitor accommodation, food and beverage facilities, picnic areas, parking, toilets, walking tracks and lookouts.
  3. Where technical difficulties, high costs and significant impacts on natural, historic or cultural values are obstacles to making an area or facility accessible to all people with disability, NPWS will seek out innovative solutions to balance protection of conservation values with improved access.
  4. Improvements to accessibility should take a place-based approach to address accessibility elements and features across a site to create fully accessible visitor experiences. For example, points of entry, paths, signs and parking around visitor facilities are considered an integral part of the facility for the purpose of assessing and improving accessibility.
  5. Buildings and infrastructure on NPWS managed land will comply with relevant standards for design and construction set out in the NPWS Construction assessment procedures and park facilities manual. This includes the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010. The Specialist Disability Accommodation Design Standard for buildings and accommodation may also be relevant for some projects.
  6. Appropriate expertise may be engaged by NPWS in planning, designing and building for accessibility. Opportunities to include accessibility advisers and/or stakeholder representatives in project control and governance arrangements will be considered, particularly for higher capital value projects.
  7. NPWS supports access to national parks for people accompanied by trained assistance animals in line with the requirements of the Pets in parks policy.
  1. NPWS will improve awareness of accessible visitor programs, experiences and events by:
    • promoting accessible events, programs and visitor experiences across a range of platforms and channels
    • promoting equipment, facilities and services that support access to recreational activities in national parks
    • including diverse images and stories of people with disability experiencing national parks
    • encouraging and enabling public feedback on accessible experiences.
  2. NPWS will continue to increase the range and quality of accessible visitor opportunities by:
    • working with partners, third parties, and licensed tour operators (including the Parks Eco Pass program) to expand and promote accessible opportunities to experience national parks (including encouraging options for Auslan guided tours)
    • working with partners, including third parties, tourism operators, government agencies and local councils, to develop accessible 'whole of journey' experiences
    • considering all 5 senses (hearing, smell, taste, touch, and vision) when creating visitor experiences
    • considering adjustments to limit noise and activity to reduce sensory overload
    • expanding the availability of equipment, facilities and services that support access to recreational activities in national parks, such as remote access wheelchairs, accessible docks and boat launch facilities, and access via specialised service organisations (e.g. those providing tailored outdoor adventure experiences for people with disability)
    • creating opportunities to experience parks using technology such as virtual reality, acoustic guides and other innovative technologies, tours and experiences
    • providing the option to contact local national park offices for further information on access, to provide feedback, or report faults through the Parks line (see below).
  1. NPWS will continue to improve its website and other digital channels to meet the needs of people who may use assistive technologies, have differing abilities in computer use, or have slow internet or older computers, including:
    • ensuring that a range of formats and services for providing information are available. This may include Telephone Typewriter (TTY), National Relay Service, Auslan, easy read, hard copy with font size options, electronic, audio recording, text to speech, video subtitling and others
    • adhering to web content accessibility standards.
  2. NPWS will progressively review training content for staff to improve:
    • awareness of accessibility issues
    • competency in the use of assistive technologies and equipment
    • literacy in providing information on accessibility to support people with disability to experience national parks.
  3. Where information or communication formats do not meet a person's specific needs, NPWS will, where possible and on request, tailor content for the person and/or provide information verbally, over the phone or in person.
  4. NPWS will ensure public newsletters and other community information formats include images that feature people with disability, use appropriate language and include stories about people with disability experiencing national parks.
  5. NPWS will continue to expand and improve information to enable people to accurately assess whether facilities, activities, attractions and experiences meet their needs before they leave home. Information may include:
    • photographs and video footage
    • floor plans that include dimensions of toilet facilities, accommodation, bathrooms, visitor centres, lookouts and other facilities
    • detailed walking track notes including the presence of steps, handrails, incline, seating and passing places
    • details of facilities or services that can assist with access and mobility.
  6. NPWS will continue to review and improve the content and communication of safety information and advice to address the needs of people with disability, including:
    • trip planning (including Trip intention forms)
    • safety advice (including online 'Park alerts' and on-site)
    • changes to the accessibility of facilities including tracks, car parks, toilets, accommodation, ramps, lookouts etc. (including online Park alerts and on-site).
  7. NPWS will work towards providing information in a 'whole of journey' format, including information on accessible transport, parking and accommodation in addition to facilities, activities, attractions and experiences.
  8. NPWS will explore opportunities to facilitate information sharing between park users, including user testing on experiences of accessibility in national parks to enhance accessibility for all visitors.
  1. NPWS consultation processes will include a variety of consultation delivery methods to meet accessibility needs including accessible venues and options to participate online.
  2. All consultation materials will meet web content accessibility guidelines and be available in alternative formats.
  3. NPWS will review appointment processes and terms of reference for advisory bodies (boards and committees) to ensure that equitable opportunities for representation are provided to people with disability and that activities and processes support the inclusion and participation of people with disability.
  4. NPWS will ensure opportunities for public feedback on NPWS operations, management, facilities and experiences are accessible to people with disability, including online, in written formats, by telephone and in person.
  5. NPWS will review volunteer policies and strategies to ensure that accessible volunteering opportunities are provided and that these opportunities are promoted.
  6. NPWS will seek to include peak disability and accessibility bodies when planning relevant stakeholder engagement processes, including park and visitor facility planning and park policies.
  1. NPWS will progressively review and improve guidelines, manuals, templates and checklists to ensure that accessibility considerations and relevant standards are included for:
    • infrastructure project planning and construction
    • park management planning
    • park facilities maintenance planning.
  2. NPWS will progressively review and improve guidelines and checklists for events, visitor programs and experiences to include accessibility considerations in design and delivery.
  3. NPWS will progressively review guidelines, manuals and strategies to include accessibility considerations in the design and delivery of information, interpretation and signage.
  4. NPWS will review relevant guidelines for consultation and collaboration processes to ensure that accessibility provisions are included when engaging and consulting the community and stakeholders and conducting meetings and workshops (online and face-to-face).
  1. In line with the department's Disability inclusion action plan, NPWS will monitor improvements in park accessibility to ensure continual improvement.
  2. NPWS will ensure that visitor research undertaken, including major visitation surveys, gathers information on accessibility and use of parks, facilities and experiences by people with disability.

Policy adopted January 2023

Preparation of this policy has been informed by consideration of the following:

International human rights treaties and obligations

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was endorsed in Australia in 2008 signifying a commitment by all levels of government to ensure mainstream services can be provided in a way that does not directly or indirectly prevent people with disability fully participating.

Commonwealth legislation and national strategy

  • Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Australian Human Rights Commission that helps resolve complaints of unfair treatment under this Act.
  • Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010
  • Specialist Disability Accommodation Design Standard
  • Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031

NSW legislation and strategy

The NSW government has committed to removing barriers so that people with disability can meaningfully participate and enjoy an inclusive community. Helping to deliver livable communities includes improvements in the accessibility of built environments and facilities in natural environments.

  • NSW Disability Inclusion Act 2014
  • NSW Disability Inclusion Plan 2021–2025.

As required by the Disability Inclusion Act 2014 (NSW), the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water has a Disability inclusion action plan. NPWS is engaged in implementing that plan.

  • Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water Disability Inclusion Action Plan 2019–2023
  • NSW Environment and Heritage Portfolio Disability Inclusion Action Plan 2015–2019

Relevant policies and documents

  • Office of Environment and Heritage Volunteer Strategy 2017–2020
  • Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water External Service-related Complaints Policy 2020

National Parks and Wildlife Service policies and guidelines

  • Visitor Accommodation policy
  • Pets in Parks policy
  • Park Facilities Manual (internal document)
  • Plan of Management Manual (internal document)
  • Park Signage Manual (internal document)
  • Construction assessment Procedures
  • NSW NPWS Regional Advisory Committee Handbook


Country is often used by Aboriginal peoples to describe their relationship to the lands, native plants and animals, waterways, and seas to which they are connected. The term contains complex concepts about lore, place, custom, language, spiritual belief, cultural practice, material sustenance, family, belonging and identity.

Disability – guiding our understanding and approach in developing this policy is the definition of disability in the Disability Inclusion Act 2014, that is 'the long term, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder the full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others'.

The scope of disability, according to the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 includes: physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological, learning, physical disfigurement, and the presence in the body of disease-causing organisms.

Universal design refers to the design of products, environments, programs and services to be usable by all people of different ages and abilities over time, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. The principles may be applied to guide the design process, evaluate existing designs, and educate about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.


This policy applies to all lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) except for lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act (unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy). However, NPWS staff can use the policy as guidance in their dealings with Boards of Management.