Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How it all got started....

Big Dreams Universally Accessible Parks and Playgrounds is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that was created to build parks and playgrounds in our community that serve people of all ages and abilities.  These parks will specifically address the needs of children and adults who are unable to use traditional play equipment due to a variety of physical and developmental disabilities.
Have you ever wondered how a child who is in a wheel chair, who is blind, who is autistic, or who has a physically disabled parent can play outside?  Traditional playgrounds and parks pose very real challenges to children and adults who have these challenges.  For example, a child in a wheel chair or who uses a walker can not even access the play structure at many parks because the surface around the structure is either bark or sand.  Neither of these types of surfaces are condusive to rolling on.  So, unfortunatley these children either sit on the sidelines and watch or their parents choose to stay home rather than subject their child to another day of feeling left out and "different". 

In 2009 I was blessed by the birth of my daughter Ruby June.  She was our lucky baby weighing 7 pounds 7.7 ounces.  We all took it as a sign that she was our good luck charm.  Soon after Ruby was born we noticed she was not using both hands equally and her right hand was always in a fist.  Many months of doctors appointments and testing revealed that Ruby had suffered a stroke in-utero.  Because of the stroke she has Cerebral Palsy, which is the term used for any type damage to the brain.  She has limited use of her right leg and very limited use of her right hand/arm.

These past few years with Ruby have been both challenging and indescribably magical.  I have learned more about life in the past four years than I ever learned in the 28 before she was born.  I have learned that life is beautiful.  It is not fair.  It is not easy.  Most of all, I have learned compassion for other parents that I otherwise would never have understood because I had no way to understand them before walking in their shoes. 

Having a child with special needs really made me feel like an outsider because my child was not able to do the same types of things other children could do or even go the same places they could go.  I was venting about this one day, after keeping quiet about it for a long time and a friend of mine told me that she felt the same way.  Like me, she had constantly avoided the park or most other outdoor locations because they were not accessible to her child.  Nor were they not safe or fun.  Most typical playgrounds do not have any elements that are accessible to a child with any motor developmental challenges.  In Ruby's case, she could not walk around on the bark or in sand.  She also could not climb ladders or sit in a traditional swing because she only has the use of her left hand and those elements require the use of two hands.  Friends would invite me to meet at the park and I would make up some excuse why I couldn't go but the true reason was that it really depressed me.  I hated seeing my child excluded.  I really felt isolated and sad that my child was missing out on such a fundamental part of being a child and also that I was missing out on the chance to see my friends and meet other parents. When Ruby got older and her younger brother, Oliver, was at the age where he wanted to play, I still couldn't take them because although Ruby was walking, she couldn't safely play in the playground without help and so, again, I stayed home.  Depressing right?  Well many other siblings, like Oliver, miss out on the opportunity to play with their brother/sister because the park is not accessible or not safe for them.

I was really sad, angry, and frustrated and decided I was going to do something about it.  I began researching parks and trying to see if there was anywhere we could go where Ruby could be free to play without my help.  I came across an organization called "Shane's Inspiration".  This is a HUGE non-profit organization that is building playgrounds all over the country that are accessible to children of all abilities.  I was thrilled!!  It was right then that I knew I had to build one here so that no other parents had to feel how I felt for so long.  During my research I have learned so much about what the "typical" playgound is lacking and who was not being served.  WOW... I really had no idea the true extent in which our parks were unintentionally excluding a huge number of children and their families.  I also learned the importance of building a park that is challenging and fun for all children.  It is not just a "handicapped" park.  It is a park for all children.  There must be elements that are fun for both the child with special needs and their able-bodied family and friends.

Have you ever wondered what a parent who is in a wheel chair does when they want to take their child to the park?  Can you imagine having to send your small child out into a park and not be able to help them or be at the bottom of the slide to catch them because you can't get through the sand or bark?  Honestly, I hadn't thought about it either.  But now it seems it's all I think about.  I hate that there is even one sunny day where a child or their parent is stuck inside because there is nowhere safe to play. 

I did not want any other parents to be trapped indoors simply because there were no places to go.  That is why I am working so hard to bring our community together to build our first Universally Accessible Playground.  Families need a place where they can come together and let their children play.  They need to have an outdoor space where their child can play with other children and have no limitations to their play.  These playgrounds are not only for children with physical challenges but also for children with any and all special needs, as well as their able-bodied family members and peers.
This is a tremendous undertaking.  It has turned out to be much more work than I was thinking it would be but, I have made some fantastic allies as well as some great community partnerships.  

If this is new information to you, I just ask that you think about it.  Take a look at your local playground through the eyes of a parent or child with a disability and think if it is somewhere they could play.  You will begin to see that it is not.  Very soon our non-profit will be doing a large public outreach campaign to share what we have learned about the need in our community and also we will be doing some large scale fundraising.  These parks are not cheap, which is a big reason they are not built very often.  We will need to raise somewhere in the range of $450,000 to build our first park.  That number may seem totally out of reach but there are many ways to raise the money including government and private grants and community fundraising.  Also, we can get donations of supplies such as concrete, gravel, physical labor, etc.  All of these things will help lower our costs but each are vital to making this project come to life.

If you would like to follow along with this park project or if you'd like to get involved check out or join our facebook group at
To learn more about Ruby June, the inspirational little lady behind this project, you can visit our blog at

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Find a Park

Is it build day yet?

Recently my sister mentioned to me that there she had spoken to a few people who were very interested in visiting an inclusive park but didn't know where to find one.  Well, I have found a great website that has a list of a few here in California.  So, you know who you are... This is for you.  California Inclusive Playgrounds You can also visit where they have listed many different parks they have built all over the country, especially in Southern California.  If you do get a chance to visit one of these parks I would love feedback about what you liked, what you didn't like, and how it was different from parks you have visited in the past.  Email:

Also, our next community meeting will be held on President's Day, Monday, February 18th at 9:30am at the Tuolumne Memorial Hall.  I hope to see you there.