What started as one groundbreaking model for inclusive playgrounds in Palo Alto could become the norm throughout Santa Clara County, which is calling on local cities, schools and nonprofits to apply for dollars to build more playgrounds accessible to children and adults of all abilities.
These playgrounds follow in the footsteps of the Magical Bridge Playground, which opened in Palo Alto in 2015. Earlier this year, Supervisor Joe Simitian introduced a plan, unanimously approved by the county Board of Supervisors, to set aside $10 million in matching funds for all-inclusive playgrounds to be built in each of the county's five districts. (Two million dollars is available in each district, and one or more grant projects may be awarded to each district.)
The county has also previously provided "modest funding" to cities and community groups in Palo Alto, San Jose and Morgan Hill to help build more inclusive playgrounds for both children and parents with physical or cognitive disabilities, according to a county press release.
In Palo Alto, the Board of Education also recently expressed support for a staff proposal to apply for a county grant to build an all-inclusive playground at Addison Elementary School.
More than 10,000 children in Santa Clara County have major disabilities, and more than 20,000 take advantage of special education in schools, the county said in its press release. But the Magical Bridge Playground and the Rotary PlayGarden in San Jose remain the only parks, city or school playgrounds that are fully accessible to them or other family members with disabilities, the release states.
The existing parks are also "becoming overcrowded," the county said, "as they are in high demand – both by families with children with disabilities, and families who haven't faced disability."
"To say that these parks have been a success would be an understatement," Simitian said in the release. "Families both with and without disabilities drive for miles to experience these parks. This will give them the same opportunities in the communities where they live."
The grant-funded playgrounds must have designed accessibility for wheelchair and non-wheelchair-bound individuals with disabilities, according to the county. The playgrounds should also include design elements that address the needs of people with autism spectrum disorder, sensory challenges, visual and auditory impairments, medically fragile individuals and those with cognitive, developmental and physical disabilities.
"As individuals, we can't always effect the direction of national policies but we can impact our communities," said Magical Bridge CEO and Palo Alto resident Olenka Villarreal said in the release. "How magical would it be to celebrate our most vulnerable community members by creating new and wondrous places for them to play?"
The fund will draw $5 million from the county's 2012 Measure A sales tax reserve, with an additional $5 million coming from other general fund sources, according to the county.
Grant applications are available starting Aug. 1, and are due on Oct. 18. The county will hold an informational workshop for prospective applicants on Aug. 17 at 10 a.m. in Los Gatos. For more information and to apply, go to sccgov.org.