Newly green trees clear a path as groups of teenagers bike and chatter busily in Danehy Park. They ride down a hill and coast by one of the park’s most distinct attractions: the Universal Design Playground, a new addition to Danehy Park built intentionally for children and visitors of all ages and abilities.
With its grand opening in December 2021, the playground is the first in Cambridge to fully incorporate Universal Design — the concept that an entire play structure should be accessible for all. “In addition to physical accessibility, UD takes sensory, cognitive, and emotional abilities into consideration to create an environment that is welcoming to all people to the greatest extent possible,” the Cambridge city government’s website says.
Indeed, following UD protocol, in place of a tire swing, there is a wheelchair-accessible swing. In addition to rope ladders, there are ramps leading into each separate structure.
Rabbi David G. Winship, a frequent visitor to the park, notes the unexpected benefits of the accessible design. “We actually have a one-month-old, and it’'s super easy to bring a stroller around here,” he says, gesturing at the ramp that runs through the center of the playground.
Winship also recalls the neighborhood’s anticipation leading up to the playground’s opening. “We watched it get built and were very excited for it to finally open,” he says.
Winship’s toddler certainly enjoys the new space. She runs up and down the soft, sloped rubber playground base and launches herself over the curved cement barriers built as seating for parents.
But before Winship’s daughter even enters the playground, she always attempts to identify the colorful shapes and figures painted on the bench right outside its gates. As she enters the play structure, she passes vibrant murals, which were painted by local artist Dominic Killiany, an autistic young adult who has difficulty with verbal communication and expresses himself through his paintings.
“My daughter Zara notices it every time we come to the playground,” Winship says.
Not all visitors to the UDP are children and parents, though. Isabella M. Gamble was picking up some coffee and pastries down the road when she stumbled upon the not-so-hidden gem.
“I just kept thinking how if only there were playgrounds like that as when I was a kid,” Gamble says. I would have had a chance to interact with a lot more people and make it more accessible space for everyone. So I just really appreciate that.”
— Magazine writer Ciana J. King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.