I first visited Magical Bridge Playground at its grand opening, in April 2015. I so clearly remember watching children in wheelchairs playing side-by-side with able-bodied children, something I certainly had never seen as a kid. The words “play” and “childhood” felt connected in my mind, yet I never realized the extent to which many children – and adults – were being excluded from such a basic and human activity. So when I was offered a chance to join the team, I jumped at the chance. And this internship has been incredible. I have met inspiring people, and seen the profound happiness that something so simple as equal play brings to the lives of so many families.
I help run Magical Bridge’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest pages, and one thing that struck me was the amount of messages we receive asking us to close down the playground for an hour for only special needs kids. I understand where these parents are coming from – but the idea of shutting the playground down fundamentally goes against what Magical Bridge stands for.
There are many other organizations working very hard to create accessible playgrounds, and their work is admirable. But Magical Bridge envisions a world where playgrounds shouldn’t have to be categorized as accessible or special needs– they should be built for everyone!
Yes, it’s that simple. These “accessible only” playgrounds are inherently excluding able-bodied kids, thus leaving disabled kids to play by themselves. And that’s exactly what we don’t want! The secret sauce of Magical Bridge is the relationships and friendships fostered through playing together, regardless of ability or disability. A large part of why families ask us for a “special needs only playtime” is because the playground is constantly packed. It can be cold, gray, rainy, or muggy (not that we get a lot of those days in California:) and there will be hundreds of people crowding the park. People come from all over the country – even world – to visit the playground because the opportunity for everyone to play is sadly, a unique one. That absolutely should not be the case.
Our goal is to give everyone a chance to play together, no matter what body they were born with. And having one playground isn’t going to cut it. Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground is an incredible leap into changing the culture of accessible play. But we need more playgrounds all over the Bay Area and the country, and I want to see Magical Bridge become the norm – not the exception.
Samantha Frenkel-Popell is a senior at Menlo School and an intern for Magical Bridge Playground.