Supervisors Approve Funding for New All-inclusive Playgrounds

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                         
December 19, 2018


SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a new round of funding for all-inclusive playgrounds to be built throughout the County, including projects in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Cupertino. 

“It’s gratifying, and frankly, it’s just the right thing to do – to provide all-inclusive places to play and socialize,” said Santa Clara County Board President Joe Simitian. “I’m so pleased that our County stepped up to help create more of these innovative playgrounds for all.”

The Board approved funding for seven projects throughout the County, including projects at Landels Elementary School in Mountain View, El Carmelo Elementary School in Palo Alto, and at Jollyman Park in Cupertino. The board also approved funding for two projects in San Jose and two in Santa Clara. These new projects follow an earlier grant program, which funded new all-inclusive playgrounds throughout the County earlier this year. 

Simitian said he was, “particularly pleased to see more school districts receive grants. I’ve been hoping our grants would extend the “all-inclusive” concept into our schools.”

Simitian, who originally proposed the grant program and the creation of new all-inclusive playgrounds in February of 2017, said that he wanted to make sure that projects were funded in all five supervisorial districts. “I thought it was important that these playgrounds become a regional asset,” said Simitian. “Kids and families from all across the County should have access to playgrounds that are truly all-inclusive.”

Over 10,000 children in Santa Clara County have “major disabilities,” and over 20,000 take advantage of special education in schools. But apart from the Rotary PlayGarden in San Jose and the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, neither County parks, nor city or school playgrounds, have historically been fully accessible to them or any other family members with disabilities. 

Truly inclusive playgrounds far surpass Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) minimum requirements, with smooth surfacing, and custom-designed climbing, sliding, swinging, and spinning zones that improve balance, spatial orientation, focus and motor skills. Outdoor play is widely acknowledged as the foundation for physical health as well as socio-emotional skills such as problem solving, communication, and sharing.

All-inclusive playgrounds have accessible and secure slides, tree houses, carousels and swings, as well as playhouses and retreat spaces that encourage imaginary play and quiet time.  This design supports recreation and social interaction for people with autism, sensory challenges, cognitive, developmental and physical disabilities – as well as those without special needs.

In addition to accessible play structures and other interactive spaces, inclusive playgrounds indulge the senses with rich, calming colors, and fanciful tactile and audio elements, such as the 24-string laser harp at Palo Alto Magical Bridge or the speakers at San Jose’s Rotary PlayGarden that pipe in pilot and air traffic control chatter from nearby Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Magical Bridge founder Olenka Villareal is one of the Bay Area’s early inclusive playground champions, motivated by the lack of safe and creative outdoor options for both her disabled and non-disabled daughters to have fun together. She found “ADA-compliant” parks that made some concessions to wheelchair users, but provided nothing for the 90 percent of disabled children with developmental or sensory challenges. She dreamed of a place “so magical, it would bridge the gap between those with and without disabilities in a seamless way.”

After years of research, planning, and fundraising, the Palo Alto Magical Bridge Playground opened in 2015. Villareal and two partners created the Magical Bridge Foundation to help other communities model inclusive playgrounds. The national spotlight has landed on their work, which was featured in the “Access + Ability” exhibition which ran through September 2018 at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

“In Mountain View, we truly believe that communities should be welcome and accessible, and this project embodies the notion of a community for all,” says Councilmember Ken Rosenberg. “The Magical Bridge Playground is the latest demonstration of how people and organizations can come together to positively impact the lives of everyone in a community.”

Simitian agrees: “There are all kinds of things that none of us can get done by ourselves, but that can be done if we take on the challenge collaboratively,” he says. “These grants show just how much we can do if we partner together. I hope this will inspire additional partnerships in the coming years.”

This is the County’s second $10 million round of funding, which is designed to leverage additional funds from cities, school districts, philanthropies, and individual donors.



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