Inclusion doesn’t come by implementing laws or ideologies into the curriculum, though these are important. The only way inclusion can be truly accomplished is when we realize that it is not simply for those with special needs or other marginalized communities, but for all of us. People with disabilities and special needs are not only capable, but necessary contributors to society and the moment the world recognizes that is the moment the world becomes a better, more interesting place. It is the responsibility of those with privilege - those who are able-bodied, typically developed, etc. - to promote this inclusion. This is achieved not through pitying or coddling those with disabilities, but through stepping aside to make space for them to fill the gap in our world that they were always meant to fill. This should be implemented within the home, in the classroom, and on the playground.
One organization is seeking to do just that. The Magical Bridge Foundation, founded in 2016 in Palo Alto, CA by Olenka Villarreal and Jill Asher, is a socially and physically inclusive playground that now has 20,000 annual visitors, and is currently looking to expand. Speaking to the mindset behind the playground, Olenka explains:
“Magical Bridge is necessary as a way to ensure that everybody in a community knows that they belong, that they’re welcome, and that they’ve been thought about when designing a place as simple as a public playground.”
A playground is often a place essential to a child’s physical, social, and emotional development, cultivating kids’ conflict management, emotional regulation, relationship-building, and overall health and exercise. Those with disabilities should not be exempt from this simply because they have different needs. Though this playground is accessible to those with special needs, they make a point to say that it is not meant to be a “special needs playground,” specifying on their website:
“Magical Bridge Playground welcomes EVERYONE, finally including the 1-in-4 of us living with a disability. However, we are NOT a special needs playground because we don’t believe there is anything special about needing a place to play. We are simply a playground for ALL.”
Too often those looking to meet the needs of those with disabilities end up isolating them even more, separating them from their peers. Magical Bridge Playground recognizes that inclusion is beneficial not just for the development of those with special needs, but also for their neurotypical peers. They understand that “inclusion” and “accessibility” should not be words used to praise a unique place, school, or organization. They should be so commonplace wherever we go that they don’t even need to be used. It should be normal for a family with both neurotypical and special needs to share the same memories, experience the same fun. One of the parents of a child who visits Magical Bridge has finally gotten to experience this:
“It allows us to have those very precious moments in life where the entire family is together and both kids are enjoying the park equally.”
The Magical Bridge Foundation is doing phenomenal work in the world of inclusion, especially on the playground. However, there are so many organizations just like it that are seeking to implement inclusion and empower people with special needs to take their rightful place in society. To learn more about the great organizations and programs that are seeking to make inclusion the new norm, look here: 20 Inspiring Special Needs Organizations.