Shannon des Rochas Rosa and her son Leo, a 15 year old with autism, travel 30 minutes from Redwood City to Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground for its unique and diverse atmosphere. “Magical Bridge is the kind of place I’ve always dreamed of being able to take my son, but it never existed until now. Ever since he became a big kid, it’s been difficult to find a place where he could fit in, and where people wouldn’t look at him strangely and make us feel unwelcome,” Shannon expresses.
Shannon believes the Magical Bridge Playground provides an inclusive environment for everyone, regardless of ability or disability. Like many families with disabled children, finding a place where they feel included is tough. Shannon strongly advocates this situation by explaining to us, “It’s really important for autistic kids to have a place where they can go to, where everybody just automatically accepts them and doesn’t make them or their parents feel bad that they’re somehow invading their space.”
For families like Shannon, a versatile playground like Magical Bridge is definitely important. Shannon shares what the Magical Bridge Playground provides for Leo, “[Magical Bridge] is a unique spot for us to go to because we can actually have a great time, the equipment is not only sized to accommodate him but it also has quiet places he can go to if he needs to. Even if it is crowded, he’s usually willing to push past it because he’s enjoying it so much and we always feel welcome.”
Magical Bridge closes the gap and provides a place where both those with and without disabilities are truly celebrated! The playground has been a great example of how kids with a variety of abilities can play together. “Leo may go to a special school for autistic kids, but he doesn’t live in a world that only has autistic people. He needs to be able to live in this world, he needs to be a member of his own community, fully integrated the way that everybody deserves to be,” Shannon tells us. At a typical playground, it is common to see kids playing on a structure, playing tag, and doing other activities a child would participate in. What most people don’t see is there are other children Leo’s age, younger and older. The problem is that they don’t feel welcome, or can get too overwhelmed by the noise and crowds.As Shannon said, typical children and children with disabilities live in the same world, so why have separate playgrounds?
It is important to parents like Shannon and Craig, that their community show consideration for their family too. Shannon believes that building more inclusive playgrounds would be an excellent start. “We can demonstrate that we really believe that people like my son are part of the community by providing a playground and a space for him to be himself.” In most public places, those with obvious neurological disabilities can get strange looks, especially if they behave in unexpected ways. Fortunately, Magical Bridge provides an area where those of any ability can be themselves.
About the Authors:
Angelica Kolar and Kaitlin Chung are two rising juniors at Gunn High School. Angelica and Kaitlin wrote this article during their five week internship at the Magical Bridge Foundation. Throughout out the internship, they interviewed several families and individuals connected to the Magical Bridge Playground and Foundation. This article focuses on one of the people interviewed and explains their experiences in further detail.
About Magical Bridge Foundation
Magical Bridge Foundation furthers the promise of Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground by advocating for and creating inclusive and innovative playgrounds in other communities. Led by Magical Bridge Playground founder and visionary, Olenka Villarreal, and co-founders Jill Asher and Kris Loew, the formation of Magical Bridge Foundation is responding to the global need for innovative and inclusive parks. We are pouring our seven years of research, fundraising, development, design, and construction strategies into building Magical Bridge Playgrounds across the nation.
If you are interested in bringing a Magical Bridge Playground to your community, kindly contact Olenka Villarreal at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jill Asher at email@example.com.