City of Tampa Natural Resources Division superintendent Brad Suder (right) accepts the Karen Jacobs Award on behalf of the city at the 33rd annual Americans with Disabilities Act awards celebration hosted by the Hillsborough County Alliance for Persons with Disabilties on Aug. 4. (Photo provided by the City of Tampa).

Congratulations to the City of Tampa and to everyone involved in the creation of the All-Abilities Playground at the New Tampa Recreation Center in Tampa Palms, which was named the winner of the 2023 Karen Jacobs Outstanding Accessible Place award by the Hillsborough County Alliance for Persons with Disabilities earlier this month.

The award, named for Karen Jacobs, a University of South Florida grad, paraplegic wheelchair athlete and advocate for the disabled who passed away in 1996 after a battle with colon cancer, also was won by the city in 2022 for the expansion of Freedom Playground in MacFarlane Park in West Tampa.This year’s Karen Jacobs Award was accepted by Brad Suder, the superintendent of Planning & Design in Tampa’s Natural Resources Division, who played an integral role in the creation of the All-Abilities Playground. 

Dist. 7 Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, who proposed the creation of the All-Abilities park in his district (which includes all of New Tampa), applauded the award.

“I was thrilled to see our All-Abilities Playground win this meaningful award,” Viera said. “This park stands as a moral statement that people with disabilities are a part of our Tampa community and family. For me, being the youngest brother of a man with an intellectual disability, this issue is very personal.”

Councilman Viera said that growing up with older brother Juan and watching his parents struggle to give Juan as “normal” a life as possible was a big influence in his life.

(l.-r.) State Sen. Jay Collins, State Rep. Fentrice Driskell & Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera at the Grand Opening of Tampa’s All-Abilities Park in Tampa Palms on Dec. 21, 2022. (Photo by Charmaine George).

“I just knew that I wanted to help other families living with similar situations,” Viera said. “I am very proud that the members of the City Council and Mayor (Jane) Castor agreed to fund and build this park.”

Raquel Pancho, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator for the City of Tampa, was one of the people who nominated the All-Abilities Park for this year’s Karen Jacobs Award:

“I am thrilled to nominate The New Tampa All-Abilities Playground for the Outstanding Accessible Places Award. (The park) is a state-of-the-art,10,000+-sq.-ft. playground that is designed for children with a wide range of physical, cognitive, sensory, and neuro-diverse abilities. It fosters wonderful opportunities for children with and without disabilities to seamlessly and effortlessly engage with each other.”

Pancho’s nomination also noted that, “The All-Abilities playground also includes a sensory area geared towards children with autism, as well as an interactive art installation called “Wild Florida Parade,” which has tactile components so individuals who are blind or low vision can also enjoy the art component.”

Sherisha Hills, Director of Tampa Parks & Recreation, said, “This playground has truly set a new standard for inclusivity and accessibility that we continue to strive towards throughout our entire Tampa Parks system.”

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