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Accessible playground gains international attention

Courtesy of Jen Lewin
Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge all-inclusive playground inspired the “Access+Ability” exhibition at this year’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Black Eyed Peas rapper, above center, talks with exhibition curators at the event, which ran Jan. 22-25.

The team at Magical Bridge Foundation watched Brooklyn artist Jen Lewin represent their efforts with a traveling version of the “Magical Harp” installation she created for their all-inclusive playground in Palo Alto at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The plot twist: There were no means to get any of the team across the globe, so they watched from approximately 5,898 miles away.

But the inability to attend and view the large-scale photograph, video and temporary laser installation portraying Magical Bridge’s efforts to serve children and adults of all abilities didn’t get the directors of the South Bay-based nonprofit organization down. They have plenty going on at home, with construction of a Redwood City playground set to open by fall and fundraising for a Mountain View playground – with $3.5 million committed so far – in full force.

The World Economic Forum attracts more than 3,000 representatives of governments, international organizations, businesses and media conglomerates.

Magical Bridge Foundation heads already knew their model for an inclusive play environment was successful when Cara McCarty, director of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, selected the playground to be featured in her new “Access+Ability” exhibition after visiting the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, her hometown.

“About a year and a half ago, (McCarty) saw the Magical Bridge Playground,” said Jill Asher, Magical Bridge Foundation co-founder and co-director. “Coincidentally, she was helping to put together (the exhibition). They were showcasing products and projects that were helping people with disabilities. … One of the pillars of the (World Economic) Forum is inclusivity and acceptability, so they invited the Smithsonian to come up and (display) the exhibit.”

Enhancing access

  Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground may serve as the model for its sister playgrounds, designed and set to be constructed in Redwood City, Morgan Hill, Sunnyvale and Mountain View, but each is customized. They all have the same zones, such as a “Kindness Corner” and a fully accessible tree hut, but the equipment makes each playground unique, whether by variations in color scheme or shape, she added.

“The spirit and the fact it is for disabled kids is (what is) important to us,” Asher said.

According to the foundation’s website, the Magical Bridge concept evolved from the goal to create an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant playground that serves all ages and abilities.

“You and I can sit on every piece of equipment at Magical Bridge,” Asher said. “One in four of us has some type of disability. Inside of that 25 percent, 7 percent are in wheelchairs and 93 percent are cognitively or (visually) impaired. Magical Bridge is very open and spread out; it is done in zones for predictability. Predictability matters. If my child can’t be around the spinners, there are plenty of other places to go. It is a fenced-in, safe land for everyone.”

Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground, which opened in Mitchell Park at 600 E. Meadow Drive in 2015, is used more than nearly any other playground in the U.S., according to data gathered by the foundation’s high school interns, with more than 25,000 visitors each month. Only 30 percent of the visitors come from Palo Alto, which underscores the need for accessible playgrounds across the area, Asher noted.

What the future brings

Magical Bridge playgrounds in Sunnyvale and Morgan Hill are slated to open in early 2020.

The Mountain View playground must open by January 2021 as a condition of the $1.8 million in funding allocated by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. If the goal of raising another $1 million is not met within a reasonable time frame, some of the elements desired for the playground may need to be eliminated, Asher said. As of last week, the playground campaign had reached 78 percent of its goal.

According to a blog post on the foundation’s website, Loyola School in Los Altos would be a prime site for another playground. Loyola students and teachers attended a Los Altos Parks and Recreation Commission meeting last April, despite the sweet sunshine of spring break calling, to advocate for an inclusive playground following former Los Altos Mayor Jean Mordo’s visit to their classroom the month before. Commissioners put the idea in their work plan for the year, but the item does not appear on the agenda for a future meeting.

When reached by the Town Crier, city liaison Manny Hernandez said there have been no subcommittee meetings on the subject, “and I know that the commission has not spoken on it since then. They have had other focuses to this point.”

To view the Magical Bridge display at the World Economic Forum, visit

For more information on the Magical Bridge Foundation, visit

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