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A Playground Accessible to All

"Matteo's Dream" in Concord, Calif. is an accessible playground inspired by a child with disabilities.

"Matteo's Dream," which recently opened in Concord, Calif., is among the largest and most elaborate playgrounds for children with disabilities. Inspired by the dream of seven year-old Matteo who is visually impaired and uses a wheelchair, the park was built by the Lions Club in partnership with the city of Concord and constructed with the help of thousands of volunteers.

"The only time you usually see this number of people volunteering together is after a disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. It's amazing to see this kind of community support," observed Michael Cohen, product manager of the Leather's and Associates, the firm that designed the playground.

The playground spans 12,000 sq. ft., about 10 times the size of a typical Bay Area home. It includes a tree house accessible to wheelchairs through long curving ramps, textured slides for visually-impaired children, and a large, moving rocking boat for kids in wheelchairs to roll freely two or three at a time. The park also features a stainless steel tunnel slide that won't interfere with the cochlear ear implants of audibly-impaired children. Static created by plastic slides sometimes has this effect. The slide is covered by a tunnel to keep it from getting too hot. The city requested water misters and a shady cool-down area so that the children won't get overheated.

All the other structures in "Matteo's Dream" are made of fiberglass reinforced plastic by Bedford Technologies. Gametime provided 3.5 inches of poured-in-place rubber surfacing to cushion falls, but also a firm enough base for children in wheel chairs.

The notion of "parallel play" means that all children, with or without disabilities, can play side-by-side and are not divided into different areas of the playground. For instance, Matteo's Dream features ramps that are not too steep and wide enough for children to go up next to each other. The extra wide suspension bridge, which is 6.5 feet off the ground, is five feet wide, several feet wider than most other bridges.

The plan took over five years to realize and was constructed with the help of over 2,000 volunteers.

"I'm speechless. This is bigger and more spectacular than anything I ever imagined,' said Liz Lamach, Matteo's mother, who has been planning and fundraising for the playground for six years.

Though the playground is expected to be superseded in size by another wheelchair-accessible playground coming to Fremont, Calif. in 2008 (funded by skater Kristi Yamaguchi's Always Dream Foundation), most involved see it as a good thing. "Things will just keep getting better and better," said Lamach.

"Pretty soon it won't seem different to be disabled."

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October 17, 2019, 6:34 am PDT

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