What’s the Story behind Universally Accessible Playgrounds in Los Angeles?

Mar 15, 2010 by Lisa Newton

Have you ever seen or visited a children’s playground that looked different than other ones you have seen before? Well, you would be correct in your observation.

A Universally Accessible Playground is where children of all physical abilities and disabilities can play side-by-side.

They’re recognizable due to their much used colorful ramps, wide bridges, lots of sand, spinning wheels, hand operated toys, and many more features.

Stoner Recreation Center

Not all playgrounds look like this, but the ones with the “Universally Accessible” label do, and that’s because out of one family’s calamity, hope was given to other kids to be able to play with other children notwithstanding their physical abilities:

What started as a tragedy continues today as hope and inspiration. Upon the death of her two-week old son Shane, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy (a disorder that would have left him severely disabled had he survived), Catherine Curry-Williams and her husband Scott had a heartbreak just as devastating as a similar story on the East Coast– Amy Jaffe Barzach’s infant son Jonathan died of a similar disorder; Amy then started a non-profit organization, Boundless Playgrounds.

Inspired by Amy’s organization, Catherine, together with her friend, Tiffany Harris, also created a non-profit organization, aptly named, Shane’s Inspiration, whose stated mission is:

“To create Universally Accessible Playground, and programs that integrate children of all abilities, socially, physically and emotionally, fostering acceptance, friendship and understanding.”

As a result of hard work and dedication, they raised $1 million dollars.

Los Angeles’ first Universally Accessible Playground, Shane’s Inspiration, was opened on September 21, 2000 in Griffith Park.

According to Catherine,

Department staff worked with Shane’s Inspiration (the organization) on a daily basis, in a seamless public/private partnership – cutting through obstacles and red tape. In many ways it was the best of both worlds. Our private funding made it possible for us to choose our contractors. The partnership with Recreation and Parks and former Councilman Feuer removed all bureaucratic obstacles. If we had to do this on our own, we would be years away from completion.

The work didn’t stop there, as both moms have helped build 152 playgrounds across the nation.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Field Trips

Shane’s Inspiration also hosts several outreach programs:

Shane’s Club: Play is the common ground of being a kid. Shane’s Club gives kids of all abilities the chance to play with, and learn from each other.

A School Field Trip Program: By combining an able bodied class with a special needs class; Shane’s Inspiration provides a forum for children to “become “buddies,” learning the indelible lessons of “diversity awareness, compassion, and acceptance.”

These are just two of the amazing programs provided by Shane’s Inspiration. If you’d like to learn more, their website has a lot more information and specific news related to the special needs of disabled children. To help their cause, on Saturday, March 27th, Shane’s Inspiration will be hosting the Play with GLEE Gala 2010. It’s a dinner event combined with both an awards ceremony and a silent auction. Even though their RSVP deadline was last week, I’m sure they can make room for a few more patrons.

From now on, each time I see a Universally Accessible Playground, I’ll remember the people that made Shane’s Inspiration a reality, and the incontrovertible important and philanthropic work they do and make real. In that vein, if you want to take your children to one, Travelin’ Local has mapped all of the local Universally Accessible Playgrounds as follows:

View Los Angeles Universally Accessible Playground Map in a larger map

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