By: Julie Jones | From: Travel Without Limits

It’s a warm day in San Antonio, Texas and yet I have goosebumps as I stand in front of Morgan’s Wonderland. I’m thrilled to finally be able to visit the world’s first and only theme park built for individuals living with a disability.

It’s a place where everyone is included and able to access rides and facilities. For me, the ultra-accessible™️ theme park is proof that positive change can come from love and determination. It’s a symbol of hope that a more accessible and inclusive world is possible for my son Braeden, and for others living with a disability.

I’ve followed the story of Morgan’s Wonderland from its opening day in 2010. I’ve been a little teary-eyed seeing videos of impossibly happy families enjoying the many inclusive facilities the park offers because I understand just how rare it is to find a place like it.

Morgan’s Wonderland is the brainchild of Gordon and Maggie Hartman. Inspired by their daughter Morgan, who lives with cognitive and physical disabilities, they dreamt of creating a theme park where every ride was accessible. Chatting to Gordon Hartman, I feel I’ve met my access and inclusion soul mate. His passion and can-do attitude is evident with every word he speaks.

I am left in no doubt that Hartman, a gentle man by nature, would be a formidable match for anyone or anything standing in the way of his dream of a more inclusive world. Driven by an awareness, love and passion I imagine he would challenge and fight in the kindest way for the greater good.

Although the Hartmans have lived experience through raising their daughter Morgan, they reached out to their San Antonio community for input. Through extensive consultation, they learnt more about what people would want and need in a theme park. Gordon explained he felt it was important to hear from others as he recognised that despite people sharing a diagnosis, no two individuals with a disability are the same. He sees a disability in a similar way to a fingerprint, everyone has a fingerprint but each one is different.

It is this open-minded attitude and willingness to listen that has created a welcoming and accessible park, where people of all ages and disabilities can visit with their friends and family for a truly inclusive day. 

A Wheelie’s Ultimate Playground

Morgan’s Wonderland offers 25 wheelchair accessible rides, so it’s no surprise it’s a wheelie’s ultimate playground.

Entering the park, I am immediately aware of the number of wheelchair users of all ages I see wheeling along the paths and boarding various rides. A mother in a wheelchair accompanied by her children plays at the waterplay table, a veteran in a wheelchair joined by his family rides the carousel and numerous children excitedly wheel together with their caregivers to their next ride.

Rides have been adapted so a wheelchair user is able to experience the ride as others do. The carousel is the perfect example. It is fitted with the mechanics so a wheelchair user can remain in their chair and feel the rise and fall of the ride just like others do when riding one of the carousel’s horses. The park’s wheelchair swings, the Whirling Wonder Ferris Wheel, Wonderland Express Train and the Off-road Adventure Ride all accommodate wheelchair users to remain in their chairs for the ride. 

Although Morgan’s Wonderland is a wheelchair user’s dream, the park caters well to a range of disabilities with various adapted elements around the park. Tactile surfaces have been included for guests who are blind or have low vision. Sensory needs have been considered with areas for quiet play and an absence of the usual theme park music and announcements, creating a calm environment throughout the park.

Inspiring More Magic

In 2017, with the success of Morgan’s Wonderland came expansion and the addition of Morgan’s Inspiration Island, the world’s first Ultra-Accessible™️ water park. The park offers five different splash pad areas, including one with warm water. The facilities are so revolutionary the park earned a listing on TIME Magazine’s 100 World’s Greatest Places.

I can see why; my mind was blown by the range of equipment and accessibility on offer for guests. On arrival at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, guests can visit the wheelchair valet team where they can swap their personal wheelchair for a water wheelchair. The team is there to assist with accessories to help with visitors’ access needs.

There is no one-size-fits all approach to the needs of those visiting Morgan’s Inspiration Island, with the walls in the storeroom lined with equipment including an incredible array of water wheelchairs and adaptive extras that can be used for additional support. Side laterals, neck and lateral beaded support cushioning and harnesses can be added to make the water wheelchairs more comfortable. And large change rooms fitted with hoists and adult-sized change tables offer guests privacy and a suitable area to change before and after using the water park. 

When it comes to water activities, power wheelchair users usually become dependent on the assistance of others when they swap their wheelchair for something suitable to use near water. Not at Morgan’s Inspiration Island! Access and inclusion is taken to the next level with power wheelchair users able to swap their wheels for a pneumatic wheelchair that they can control themselves in a similar way to a power chair. These chairs were developed especially for Morgan’s Inspiration Island for use in the water. 

Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island is not only a playground for locals and visitors from around the world, but the parks also provide valuable employment opportunities for people with a disability. A third of staff working in the parks live with a disability.

It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to finally visit Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island. It was a privilege to meet Gordon Hartman, and in doing so I was reminded that it only takes one person to challenge the barriers faced by people living with a disability and to bring about change – with the right support and backing of course. And after my visit, I was more inspired than ever to continue to question the status quo and surround myself with access champions to remind me that the seemingly impossible is possible.