Recently my blogging friend, Christine from Adventure Baby, messaged me. She was in California and she had just taken her daughter to a playground in Palo Alto. Knowing my interest in all abilities playgrounds she had to share her find, Magical Bridge Playground. I love the way my friends, who don’t have a child with a disability, take such an interest in this topic knowing what it means to families to have a play space which is inclusive to all. When Christine came back to Australia she sent me photos of the fantastic looking playground. My interest was spiked so I decided to find out more.
I’ve written extensively about how we avoided playgrounds for a long period of time because so little was accessible to both our kids. It made meeting friends, having a picnic or family get-togethers difficult as we didn’t want to see BJ, who was using a wheelchair, missing out. Play is something we take for granted, that’s until it isn’t possible. We felt playgrounds highlighted what BJ couldn’t do and therefore it was a place to avoid. Fortunately, so much has changed since he was a little boy. We are so happy to see accessible and inclusive playgrounds becoming available all around the world.
As is so often the case, Magical Bridge Playground came about when someone found a lack of facilities and went about changing it. Where would we be without these wonderful trailblazers?
Olenka Villarreal was the person who 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.”
Magical Bridge Playgrounds are designed to address the complex needs of the entire population living with disabilities, from the physical to the cognitive. The result is an amazing playground which the whole community can enjoy. Siblings and friends can play side-by-side on equipment like the accessible carousel pictured above.
Imaginative play is such a part of childhood. Exploring the wheelchair accessible tree house would be top of my list. What a gem of a piece of playground equipment.
Ramping ensures no-one is left on the ground level. This is fantastic for parents who are wheelchair users wanting to play with their children too.
The bridge from the second storey of the playhouse to the slide mound has two ways to cross: a gently graded “sway” bridge or a straight bridge, right along side, so everyone can cross together.
A stage area allows children and adults to unleash their inner performer with the opportunity to act or sing till their heart’s content.
Imagine a Magical Harp which is played by passing your body through 24 low-voltage diode LEDs which shine from the top of the delicate arch to the ground. This award-winning playground feature was created by artist Jen Lewin. It works “much like plucking the string of a harp, pass through the beams triggers custom circuitry and sensors produce musical notes.” It sounds like a fun feature whether playing by yourself or collaborating with new found friends at the playground.
Notice anything different about the slide pictured above? Proving the design team really did think of everything, the slide you’ll note has a bench at the base of it. This allows a child who may need to transfer to a wheelchair, or someone needing a bit longer to get back up, time to do so by sliding over to one side. There’s even a grab bar to make getting up easier. This frees up the slide to continue to be used while allowing the first person down a little more time to gather themselves. Genius!
This isn’t the only slide at Magical Bridge Playground. There’s a Group Slide which enables two or three people to slide down at once, perfect for those needing additional assistance or just the added fun of sliding with a friend!
There’s also a slide with higher sides to make it safe for a child wanting independence but new to sliding alone.
We first saw these swings in Santa Monica when we were last in Los Angeles. The Bucket Swings allow those park visitors without the upper body strength to hold themselves up on traditional swings the opportunity to experience the joy and benefits of swinging. I’ve never seen so many in a row. How wonderfully inclusive.
I was a big fan of swings as a kid, even as an adult if the truth be told, and I don’t think anything beats the freedom and joy of a swing.
The Spin Zone has a range of play equipment for visitors to use for spinning including the Cozy Cocoon, the Dish Spinner, the Net Spinner, the Nest Spinner and the accessible carousel.
What I notice about each of the zones at Magical Bridge Playground, is the recognition that there’s not a one-size-fits all approach to accessibility needs. People have preferences, differing needs and abilities, so it’s fabulous to see so many options available in one playground.
I think this video probably best explains what this playground means to the families who use it. It’s short so take a minute to enjoy it –
A big thanks to my buddy Christine for letting me know about this wonderful playground and thanks also to Olenka for allowing me to share photos from Magical Bridge Playground’s archives. We need more people like Olenka in this world to ensure inclusive experiences for all.
I hope one day we get back to California to check this out in person and also to meet Olenka, clearly a great visionary.
You can read more about the Magical Bridge Playground here. It seems the magic is spreading further than Palo Alto with other playgrounds now being built.
Christine’s hot tip is to visit Ada’s Café which is around the corner from the playground. Ada’s Café employs staff of all abilities. I had a look into Ada’s Café and found the following. Kathleen Foley-Hughes, the founder of Ada’s Cafe, “is the mother of a child with a developmental disability. Kathleen wanted to create opportunities to empower her son and help him be independent.
As Charlie started middle school, Kathleen was inspired to set up a cafe which taught cooking skills to students with special needs. She continued the mission at Charlie’s high school, where she set up a cafe run collaboratively by students in the special day class and their high school peers.
The idea for a cafe like Ada’s came from Kathleen’s personal experience and she now takes over as a mother, cheerleader, and advocate for her employees. Her passion for elevating the lives of adults with disabilities inspires a strong work ethic and fosters a warm and welcoming community.”
You can read more about Ada’s Café here.