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Orange County Register (California)

Children climbed, ran and crawled on Los Angeles' newest inclusive playground, a farmhouse-themed play space in Fernangeles Park designed to provide kids with disabilities a fun and safe way to use facilities from which they are often excluded.

The 3,700-square-foot playground, which opened Thursday and is located in near the junction of I-5 and the 170, is the 29th inclusive playground built in Los Angeles, making the city "the most playable city in the nation," according to Mike Shull, the interim general manager for the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Although federal law mandates all new playgrounds comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, not all new playgrounds are inclusive, he said.

"There's a big difference between this and an ADA-accessible playground," he said.

"This goes way beyond the law."

The nonprofit Shane's Inspiration, which has built all of Los Angeles' inclusive playgrounds, was started in 1997 by Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams, whose son Shane Alexander died of spinal muscular atrophy a few weeks after he was born.

Realizing Shane would have been confined to a wheelchair and unable to play with friends at school and community parks, they began the nonprofit and built the first inclusive playground, named Shane's Inspiration, at Griffith Park.

"What we say is that we always design to the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law," said Brad Thorton, director of projects for Shane's Inspiration. "It's a playground for children of all abilities."

The new Fernangeles Park playground cost $360,000, Thorton said, and is the fourth of five inclusive playgrounds funded by a grant from First 5 Los Angeles, a group dedicated to improving the safety and physical and emotional health of children under 5 years old.

Diane Scanlan, who designed the playground, said that standard products can be adjusted to make them more accessible and challenging, such as the angled beam covered with rubber to make it less slippery, which can help disabled children develop balance.

Other features include a ramp leading to the playground's upper level, a wide railing that allows wheelchair access and rubber flooring that surrounds the playground.

The farm theme, complete with the trademark red paneling with white trim, a pig installed into rubber flooring and silhouettes of farm animals built into the play area, was decided after an outreach campaign to find what the community wanted in the playground, said Jerri Hemsworth, president of Shane's Inspiration's board of directors.

Shane's Inspiration works with Los Angeles Unified School District to host three-day programs where students spend one day learning about disabilities, another paired with a child who has disabilities at an inclusive playground and a third day sharing what they learned.

"It helps eliminate bullying and bias, and they realize that the children they are playing with are really just like them," she said. "It's magical and incredible to watch."

The program is mainly used for third- to fifth-graders, though similar programs exist for middle schools, high schools and the community, she said.

The next inclusive playground, at the Sepulveda Recreation Center in Panorama City, is scheduled to open in December.


August 4, 2014


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