Shane’s Inspiration makes Playa Vista Sports Park a welcoming place for children of all abilities
By Robyn Paris
“It’s hard to fathom that a disabled child could spend their entire life never playing in a playground,” says Tiffany Harris, co-founder and CEO of Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit builder of universal playgrounds.
With features like tactile sensory walls, sloped wheelchair-accessible ramps and backed swing chairs, Shane’s Inspiration playgrounds like the one in Playa Vista Sports Park are accessible and beneficial to children with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities. Such elements ensure that all children, regardless of ability, have a place to enjoy fresh air, to develop physically and cognitively, and to play and socialize with peers.
Since its inception in 2000, Shane’s Inspiration has created a network of over 60 playgrounds across the United States and the world, with another 75 in development. With help from an advisory board, a landscape architect and local families, the playgrounds are designed to engage the imagination, encourage tactile stimulation, incorporate sound and spinning, and reach way beyond the basic balance beam and monkey bars. Playa Vista became home to one of the first 16 universal playgrounds in Southern California more than a decade ago.
When Harris got a call from then-Playa Vista CEO Steve Soboroff about building one in Playa Vista, she jumped at the chance to expand the network. And rather than ask the nonprofit to fundraise, Playa Vista offered to fully fund the playground’s construction.
“Playa Vista wasn’t conceived as a real estate project, it was conceived as a public policy project. This park was just one part of our mission,” said Soboroff, who was president of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission from 1995 to 2000.
The benefits of universally accessible playgrounds extend far beyond childhood. Harris notes that as many as 80% to 90% of adults with disabilities who lose their jobs do so because of their inability to navigate the social terrain.
“A lot of this is because they have not integrated early into play,” says Harris.
But playgrounds aren’t all that Shane’s Inspiration brings to the community. A program called My Play Club encourages connection between disabled and developing children. On various Saturdays, the nonprofit transports children with special needs on buses to the playgrounds to for crafts, snacks and play.
Harris says young children approach kids with disabilities without judgement, but “adults are afraid of what we don’t know.” But when parents of able-bodied kids watch them play with special needs children, “we so those misconceptions dissolve.”
Another Shane’s Inspiration program bringing disabled children out of the shadows is Together We Are Able, which pairs elementary school children with disabled children at a ratio of about 2 to 1 for playdates at Shane’s Inspiration playgrounds. Before meeting with their “buddies,” elementary school kids watch an educational video (available at shanesinspiration.org). While some of the kids can be a little nervous at first, once they begin to play together “the differences and disabilities begin to dissolve,” says Harris. Children who are developing in a typical way may enjoy swinging their buddies, she says, but often “the buddy will help the typically developing child — it goes both ways.”
In the end, Shane’s Inspiration is about not only breaking down barriers, but building human connections.
“It’s all about opening up dialogue about our differences,” says Harris, “and how we’re more similar than different.”
Playa Vista Sports Park is at 13196 W. Bluff Creek Drive. Visit shanesinspiration.org for more information about the My Play Club and Together We Are Able programs.