As children, most people don’t thinks twice about their abilities to run around on play structures or glide through the air on swings. Nevertheless, for children with disabilities, this is often an impossibility. An ideal summer full of seesaws and slides is a far-fetched and an impractical dream.
However, this month, Palo Alto introduced a revolutionary new park completely inclusive to all individuals. The Magical Bridge Playground drew a large crowd during its grand opening on April 18 at Mitchell Park and included performances by differently abled children on the community stage.
According to Jill Asher, co-creator of the playground, outdoor play is an essential way for young children to develop gross motor skills and to form friendships.
The idea began when Olenka Villarreal, a Palo Alto mom, could not take her child with special needs to any of the 34 parks in Palo Alto. Instead, Villarreal was forced to spend $150 an hour on a round-trip to San Jose so that her daughter could simply swing on a special swing set, Asher said.
Despite Villarreal’s complaints to the City of Palo Alto regarding the lack of inclusivity in the city parks, all city parks were compliant with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. An ADA-compliant park gives differently abled children the ability to enter the park, but not necessarily the ability to play in it. Villarreal soon decided to make matters into her own hands.
After six years of extensive planning and nine months of building, Villarreal utilized $4 million raised through fundraising and the $300,000 given by the City of Palo Alto to finally turn her dream into a reality.
“It truly is a playground for everybody regardless of physical and cognitive disabilities or abilities,” Asher said.
According to Nick Peterson, head contractor of the project, the park is separated into seven different zones: the kindness corner, picnic/playhouse zone, slide zone, music zone, swinging/sway zone, spinning zone and tot zone.
According to Peterson, the inclusion experts and contractors have been working hard to make sure every structure and surface is inclusive to all cognitive and physical disabilities. For example, every inch of the park is covered in a special surface that is wheelchair-friendly, making it easier for all children to get around the park.
Both audio and visual tools are integrated into all seven zones alongside the different slides and structures to help children with disabilities.
“Its important to include a lot of audio and visual for all the abilities and disabilities that kids have,” Peterson said.
Co-founder Asher hopes that everyone, from children to teens, will enjoy the Magical Bridge Playground.
“We hope that teenagers from Palo Alto High School will come and have discussions about being kind and compassionate and a good friend,” Asher said.
Audio: Children perform “part of your world” during the grand opening of the Magical Bridge Playground