I’m fortunate to meet many amazing people who are doing their best to ensure this world is more accessible and inclusive. There are so many people championing for a society which will be welcoming and inclusive to all. I’ve shared stories about Australian champions, but on my recent trip to the US I met with four people I’d like to introduce you to.
Given Olenka (standing at the back on the left) brought me together with all the people in this story it seems fitting that I share her work first. Olenka is a powerhouse, and since building the first Magical Bridge Playground in Paolo Alto (about an hour from San Francisco) she has continued to bring about change with construction of other playgrounds underway and a TEDx talk under her belt.
While in San Francisco I was lucky enough to visit the Magical Bridge Playground and marvelled at the dynamic atmosphere. Magical Bridge is definitely a destination playground, somewhere people will travel miles to visit.
It all started when Olenka identified a community need when she discovered her younger daughter, Ava, had developmental challenges. She learned that vestibular movement, such as swinging, would benefit Ava, but her limited upper body strength made holding the swing chains impossible. It wasn’t long before Olenka discovered her hometown of Palo Alto, California could not provide the most basic aspects of play for her daughter. Olenka, with her co-founders Jill Asher and Kris Loew, formed the Magical Bridge Foundation and decided to make a difference.
It took seven years of research, design and fundraising for Olenka and her small team of volunteers to build this remarkable playground located in the heart of Silicon Valley — where everyone can play.
The Magical Bridge Foundation prides itself on exceeding the current ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) standards. They believe, “everyone should feel the magic of play, including children and adults with disabilities and special needs, those from economically challenged homes or underfunded schools, and those who long for a secure spot to feel the freedom of swinging, sliding, spinning, and finding new friends.”
Given the restrictions BJ had when we visited playgrounds when he was younger, this playground simply gives me goosebumps. Any of you who have followed Have Wheelchair Will Travel for a long time will know I’ve reviewed many playgrounds, but this is the best I’ve seen. A big call I know, but I am such a believer in children experiencing imaginative play and the magic of exploring. Magical Bridge Playground’s centre piece is a tree house. The tree house is accessible to all with ramps, a sway bridge and a static bridge. Usually a tree house is only accessible for those that can climb, but at Magical Bridge Playground, anyone that wants to get amongst the tree tops can. BJ loved our cubby house in the backyard, so I can’t imagine how much he’d have loved to join other kids on a tree house adventure.
You can watch Olenka’s TEDx Talk below.
Kathleen is the founder of Ada’s cafe which is just a short walk or wheel from Magical Bridge Playground. Ada’s Cafe employs 50 people, 37 of which are people with a disability.
When Kathleen’s son Charlie (smiling handsomely in his red jumper) started middle school, Kathleen was disappointed at the lack of vocational training options for students with a disability. She spoke with the school about the issue and offered to use her catering background to teach the students cooking skills, which she hoped they could use to gain employment in the future.
Kathleen took the idea that much further by setting up Ada’s Cafe which now employs staff of all abilities. Speaking to Kathleen I could feel the pride and joy she feels in her employee’s successes. I wished I had all day to hear more.
I had the pleasure of meeting Kathleen’s son Charlie who is delightful and also a keen traveller, giving us much to chat about. While Kathleen and I talked about the cafe, Charlie efficiently went about serving customers. It again struck me how short sighted society is in not giving people with disability the opportunity to work. A shocking 80% of people with a disability are not employed.
Every corner of Ada’s cafe is full of positive messages and love, and judging by the steady stream of customers entering Ada’s, it’s an integral part of the Paolo Alto community. I’d love to see an Ada’s cafe in every suburb. We could do with more Kathleens in this world too.
You can read more about this lovely cafe on the Ada’s Cafe website.
Keoke kindly picked me up from my hotel and drove me to the Magical Bridge Playground. It gave us an hour to chat about all things access, inclusion and equipment.
Keoke believes in increasing the participation of people with disabilities by making great, affordable assistive products and he and his co-founders are starting with a wheelchair for children. It’s pretty radical chair in several ways. First, it’s really versatile with use as a wheelchair, jogger stroller, or stationary base. And, it is designed to provide a wide range of postural support and still be affordable for people who want a rugged chair for travel or hiking. Best of all, it folds up small enough to fit in the boot/trunk of a small car.
Keoke and his co-founders believe using business to serve people’s needs just makes sense and they’re passionate about filling product gaps that they’ve seen in lower income countries. Keoke saw his grandmother’s wheelchair and always thought there must be a better solution than the heavy, expensive, medical looking product that she used.
Angela and her dog Plum rearranged their day to meet with me which I really appreciated. Angela is Miss Wheelchair California 2019 with a platform of “Living inclusively Conversations around the American with Disabilities Act.” I think we’d all agree that living inclusively is an important topic to bring into the mainstream and Angela works hard to do that. Angela lives with cerebral palsy, travels and has two children.
As part of her role as Ms Wheelchair California, Angela speaks about inclusion at schools and other organisations, bringing awareness while fundraising. She’s one busy lady.
A special mention must go to Plum, Angela’s assistance dog, who stole the show at the playground and was extremely popular with children.
Meeting so many people doing great work in the access and inclusion space further fuels my desire to advocate in this area. A big thanks to Olenka, Kathleen, Keoke, Angela and Charlie.