Including all spectrums of ability in Irvine playground

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Tyler Truong

WORK HARD, PLAY HARDER: Children get creative while climbing on a rope play structure, enjoying their youth at Sweet Shade.

Shreya Aithal, Staff Writer

Irvine was awarded a $2.8 million grant on Oct. 25 to develop a universally accessible playground in Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park by California Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris and will now undergo significant renovations.

The Sweet Shade community, which houses the city’s Disability Services program, was chosen particularly as the location for the accessible playground so that residents could have a centralized location for recreational activity, accommodation, resources and more.

Playgrounds like this create more opportunities for children to experience playgrounds regardless of ability, since they are equipped with specialized sensory gardens, adjustable swings and more.

“Inclusion is something anyone can practice,” Northwood education specialist Katherine Gorin said. “This is a really great idea for kids to see and practice inclusivity at an early age.”

Petrie-Norris, who secured and awarded the grant to Irvine, has also promoted this cause through playgrounds in Laguna Beach, according to the OC Register. Orange County has also introduced a multitude of accessible parks and playgrounds with the help of these grants, such as Courtney’s Sandcastle and Max Berg Plaza Park in San Clemente, along with Columbus Tustin Park in Tustin.

Inclusion is something anyone can practice. This is a really great idea for kids to see and practice inclusivity at an early age.”

— education specialist Katherine Gorin

These parks aim to increase inclusivity among users and follow requirements dictated by the guidelines from the American Disability Act of 1990, which include an accessible path to and from the play structure to the building and parking as well as easy access to play sets with mobility devices.

Irvine’s other 40 parks have served communities with standardized layouts and amenities, including play structures equipped with slides and monkey bars, as well as basketball courts and sand pits, creating local essentials.

The introduction of newer parks such as the one in Sweet Shade strive to make play structures wheelchair accessible and to create transfer stations for parents and two separate play areas with features such as rubberized surfaces and sand.

These additions hope to include children across the spectrum of ability and create experiences that appeal to every child.

Having playgrounds in Irvine more accessible makes it easier for adults to model to youth on learning how to be inclusive of people who don’t look, act or play like us.”

— education specialist Katherine Gorin

With increasing numbers of resources such as the Disability Services program, which has operated since 2019, cities are working to provide community members and their families with additional services and support in regard to their disabilities, extracurriculars and referrals.

The City has received the final construction contract, and construction will commence in spring 2023, setting the playground opening date for spring 2024.

“Kids often look at adults to learn how their role models interact with unfamiliar and new experiences in life,” Gorin said. “Having playgrounds in Irvine more accessible makes it easier for adults to model to youth on learning how to be inclusive of people who don’t look, act or play like us.”