A work crew was busy putting the final touches on a new universally accessible playground on Wednesday. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

A work crew was busy putting the final touches on a new universally accessible playground on Wednesday. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SOUTH BEACH PARK — Santa Monica’s first playground that is universally accessible to children with disabilities will open on Saturday at 10 a.m. in South Beach Park.

Official planning of the approximately $1 million project began two years ago, city officials said. The new playground will have features such as wide spaces and pathways for easier maneuvering and wheelchair access. The play area is also designed with sensory and interactive elements like water, sand and climbing equipment to appeal to the senses of touch and hearing.

In traditional parks, features as simple as a swing are difficult for some children to enjoy if they are bound to a wheelchair or crutches. This new accessible park instead is designed to accommodate any child, said Phil Brock, chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission.

“Playgrounds for years were only accessible and usable by able-bodied children, and it’s now widely recognized that so many children were being left out,” Brock said.

Santa Monica is one of a handful of cities in Southern California to establish a universally-accessible park. More cities have been catching on to the trend as awareness of the issue grows. Fifteen such parks have sprouted in the Los Angeles area alone since the first universally-accessible park in the western U.S. was established 13 years ago.

Christopher Arroyo, chair of the Disabilities Commission, said more people might be paying attention to ensuring access for individuals with disabilities because of growing levels of advocacy and increasing numbers of children diagnosed with autism.

Approximately one out of every 88 children are diagnosed as autistic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The park, along with other features such as closed captioning of city meetings and audible signals at sidewalks, have helped make Santa Monica more accessible to individuals with disabilities, Arroyo said.

The Disabilities Commission is now looking at how to encourage residents to build wheelchair-accessible pathways in their homes, Arroyo added.

 

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