Palo Alto playground offers new options for kids with disabilities

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) - It's being called the most innovative and most inclusive playground in the country where no matter your physical or intellectual ability, all are welcome.

"They are going to enter this playground for the first very first time and feel very safe and very secure," said Jill Asher of the Friends of Magical Bridge.

Olenka Villareal thought of the idea six years ago. She would drive from Palo Alto to Cupertino to pay $150 so her child with developmental disabilities could play on a swing. The drive got her thinking.

"Where are they playing?" said Villareal. "Where are those children using a wheelchair, children using a walker, a blind child, where are they going to play and be part of their community?"

After much research, planning and raising $4 million, most of it privately funded, the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto was born.

It's a playground with a magical laser harp where music is made simply by plucking imaginary strings in the air.

The swings are big enough and slides wide enough for all ages and sizes. There's also a two-story tree house with a stage and bridge so anyone can play at an elevated height.

"Typically children with disabilities are playing on the sidelines," said Asher. "They are not in the center of things. Here at the Magical Bridge Playground, we want them to come out and we want them to celebrate and to shine."

The playground is not just for children – it also benefits adults in wheelchairs. For mother Emily McQueen who has four boys, she calls it a dream come true.

"They get to see me as their taxi and their provider and all the things a mom does," said McQueen. "But here I get to play with them and they get to see me being silly, being fun and being adventurous."

It's a place where everyone can be themselves. The hope now is that by opening this playground it will open up a national conversation that all playgrounds should be built this way.

The Magical Bridge Playground opens up in Palo Alto on Saturday.