fter spinal muscular atrophy caused the death in 1997 of their 2-week-old son Shane Alexander, Scott Williams and Catherine Curry Williams, with the help of friend Tiffany Harris, led the drive for equality for all children with disabilities who wanted an opportunity to play. Today, barriers are being torn down all over Southern California and beyond, allowing children with disabilities to be on a level playing ground with the rest of their peers.
Shane's parents understood that if their son had lived and been confined to a wheelchair, he would have been at a disadvantage when he wanted to play in local parks and playgrounds with other children his age. As a result, Harris and Catherine Curry Williams decided to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to integrating children with and without disabilities in a playground with equipment that all children can use and easily access. In 1998, Shane's Inspiration was founded, and it has since raised millions of dollars to create over 40 universally accessible playgrounds. The first, "Shane's Inspiration," is located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and according to Harris, it is the busiest of all 300-plus playgrounds in Los Angeles County.
"We started looking at all of the playgrounds in L.A. County to see if they complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and although some requirements were met, they still didn't allow for accessibility for children with any type of disabilities," Harris explained. "We researched why children with disabilities weren't integrating with other children in the area and found that there weren't enough fun things for them do, and getting them to a place that they could play was too difficult."
Harris said that their first playground in Griffith Park helped Shane's Inspiration come onto the scene with a bang and was a huge success, inspiring other parks to follow suit.
"Griffith Park was supposed to be the one and only of its kind," said Virginia Hatley, lead playground designer at Shane's Inspiration. "The response was so overwhelming that we were asked to build more like it. There is no reason that all playgrounds shouldn't be built this way."
Of the 40-plus playgrounds that Shane's has built so far, two recent Los Angeles-area projects include the Everychild Foundation Universally Accessible Playground at Orthopaedic Hospital in Los Angeles and the Anthony C. Beilenson Park playground in Van Nuys.
The Everychild Foundation playground was developed after several doctors, nurses and therapists decided they wanted a playground that was accessible to the public and for their patients. With cerebral palsy being the most common disability among their patients, the playground was designed to accommodate these types of children, with an emphasis on handrails, guards and large steps for children who have problems with stability.
The project at Beilenson Park originated from a community priorities and options session, which included community leaders expressing what they wanted in their playground, including specific equipment, colors and the theme of the park. According to Hatley, each playground features a different theme that makes it unique. Because the Beilenson playground is by a lake, a beach theme was a logical choice.
The public's response has been overwhelming, and Shane's Inspiration has won several awards, including "Best Playground" from Los Angeles Magazine's "101 Things to Shout About," an L.A. Parent Award for Outstanding Playgrounds, an Architectural Landscape Design Award from the L.A. Business Council, the 12th Annual Access Award from L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and the L.A. County Commission on Disabilities, and California Parks and Recreation Society's State Wide Facility Design, Special Purpose Award.