The Way the World Should Look: Magical Bridge Playground Comes to Redwood City

Last week my town held the groundbreaking ceremony for its own Magical Bridge playground. This is a big deal, not just for Leo and our family, but for every local with a disability who has ever felt unwelcome at, or been unable to access, the casual, fun neighborhood playgrounds and parks experience that most other residents take for granted. This is inclusion done right.

If you're not familiar with Magical Bridge, you probably will be in the near future: The Magical Bridge Foundation is creating and deploying all-abilities-and-ages playgrounds right here in Silicon Valley. And when all goes according to plan, their ideals and examples and playgrounds will take over the world! (If you want to be part of this master plan, the best option right now is to help bringing Magical Bridge playgrounds to Sunnyvale and Morgan Hill.)

Since my crew and I are locals, the Magical Bridge power duo of founder Olenka Villareal and co-founder Jill Asher asked me to be one of the folks who gave short speeches during the ceremony. Here's what I had to say:

"Hi, I’m Shannon Des Roches Rosa. I’ve lived in Redwood City since 1994, and I’ve never wanted to live anyplace else in this region. My husband and I have three kids, all of whom went to Redwood City schools, and participated in the coin drives that helped make our Magical Bridge playground happen.

Actually giving this very speech. Photo © Elaine Park
[image: Me at a podium in a park, talking with my hands.]

My middle child, Leo, was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. And, as he got older, it became really obvious that the parks that he loved, like Maddux Park—where his big sister has a tile with a print of her baby-sized foot in the wall, and Stafford Park, and all the other wonderful parks in Redwood City were no longer as welcoming as they used to be.

Leo at Magical Bridge in Palo Alto, with Jill (L) and Olenka (R)
[image: Leo happily sitting in a spinning playround pod, between two
blonde white women wearing blue Magical Bridge t-shirts.]

"It’s hard, when your kids are different, or you’re different: sometimes other people are uncomfortable around you. And nobody wants to be around people who make you feel bad. So after a while, we started to spend more time at home, or would only go to parks and playgrounds when we knew no one else would be there. My son is a high-support mostly non-speaking guy, but he is amazing—and amazingly physical, and he always wants to hang out, run around, and play. So imagine my surprise and delight in finding out about Magical Bridge.

My kids Leo and J. playing together (!) at Magical Bridge Palo Alto
[image: Small white girl pushing a conical merry-go-round on which
her brother is lying down. Both kids seen from behind.]

"The first time I visited the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto with my kids, I almost couldn’t believe that a place like it existed. And that’s not just about its accessibility: It’s not about the fact that everybody can play; it’s about the everybody does play. It’s the fact that, when I’m there, there are kids who don’t have obvious disabilities like my son does—but they will talk to him. They will take turns with him. And sometimes, we’ll realize that a few of them are part of our autism community, because they’ll want to talk about every single category of Pokemon for five straight minutes—and that’s great, too!

Leo at the Magical Bridge 2017 Halloween Party. We would *never*
go to a playground this busy, if it wasn't Magical Bridge

[image: Leo, wearing an orange-and-black Fred Flintstone costume,
seen from behind, swinging on a disc swing, at a crowded playground.]
"So I’m really excited about having a Magical Bridge Playground here in Redwood City because inclusion really matters. Because my son, and all of our friends with disabilities, whether they’re here today or not—they are human beings. With hopes, dreams, fears, and likes (my son is 17 years old; he likes Deadpool), just like you.

"But the fact that, so often, other people let disability get in the way of recognizing our shared humanity—that’s a problem. And that’s not something that happens when you have a place like Magical Bridge in Palo Alto already is, and Magical Bridge in Redwood City is going to be: It’s not about pity, it’s not about charity; it’s about making the world look the way it’s supposed to look—for everybody. And that’s why I just can’t wait until we have Magical Bridge here in our own backyard.

"Thank you so much, Olenka and Jill."

[video description: The Magical Bridge Redwood City speech-givers, doing ceremonial ground-breaking
by wearing hard hats and happily shoveling some dirt, in unison.]

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