Morgan’s Inspiration Island is First-Ever Water Park Designed for Disabled Kids

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @MorgansWndrlnd

By Claire Russell, A Swimming World College Intern.

Morgan’s Wonderland and Inspiration Island has a heartfelt story that matches its purpose: to tear down barriers between children of all abilities. This story begins on an ordinary day with a typical family on summer vacation. However, the story ended with something that promised to be quite extraordinary and inspirational.

In the summer of 2005, Gordon and Maggie Hartman were on vacation watching their daughter, Morgan, at the pool. Gordon noticed that other kids were hesitant to interact and play with his daughter because of her disability. That exact moment was his tipping point. He promised himself that he would help create a place for those with and without disabilities to have fun and and gain a better awareness of one another.

The Beginning of The Dream

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Morgan with parents Gordon and Maggie on a ride at Morgan’s Wonderland. Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @MorgansWndrlnd

This idea didn’t just grow overnight. Gordon Hartman was already a driven business man who started his own land development company in 1983 at 23 years old. His business, Gordon Hartman Homes, grew to be one of the largest locally owned home-building and land development enterprises. To pursue his dream of helping children and adults with special needs, he sold all his companies to start funds for the Gordon Hartman Family Organization in 2005. The organization improves the quality of lives with special needs. He continues to serve families across the country and has committed nearly 50 million dollars for the cause. From his mission came the birth of Morgan’s Wonderland in 2010.

If you are feeling motivated and generous today, here is how you can join in the movement.

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @MorgansWndrlnd

Morgan’s Wonderland is the first ever theme park designed for special-needs individuals and is welcome to everyone. The park is located in San Antonio, Texas, and sets a precedent for many to follow. Two years from the opening, Toyota (an international automotive company) joined in on his dream. Toyota became the presenting sponsor of Morgan’s Wonderland with a long-term philanthropic agreement.

Because the park was a huge success, Morgan’s Wonderland happily added an extension called Morgan’s Inspiration Island. This section is the first-ever water park designed for individuals with special needs. The park has over 25 attractions and free admission for disabled or special needs guests. This one-of-a-kind theme park is must-see place for all families.

The Accessible Attractions In Morgan’s Wonderland

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @MorgansWndrlnd

The best part about Morgan’s Wonderland is that it simply offers a place for disabled individuals to have fun and make friends. Each of the 25 attractions were designed for easy wheelchair access with the same inclusion goal for the water park. It contains numerous splash pads with unique features. One of the most popular attractions – Rainbow Reef – includes heated water, which is ideal for individuals with certain medical conditions.

A family outing here ensures peace of mind with these extra safety measures. One of these safety elements includes the option of getting Waterproof RFID (radio frequency radiation) wristbands. These help parents keep track of their kids around the park. In addition, the water park even offers complimentary waterproof wheelchairs to use while exploring the park and going on a River Boat Adventure Ride. The chairs comes in three different sizes so that families don’t have to worry about damaging their expensive wheelchairs.

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @MorgansWndrlnd

The park’s website details the numerous attractions here and is sure to include activities suited to anyone’s taste. Want to have the full carousel experience? Their carousel has a specially designed chariot to allow children in wheelchairs to go up and down rather than simply sitting still. The wheelchair swings have both traditional and adaptive swings so that kids of all ages and abilities can swing together. Soar above the skyline on the Whirling Wonder, a ferris-wheel type ride, with 12 gondolas that can hold children and adults in wheelchairs. The park also provides a creative outlet for the arts. Want to try your hand at acting? The theme park also offers Shakespeare in Wonderland to provide individuals with special needs a chance to perform on stage.

The Experience Starts with Morgan’s Wonderland Staff

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @MorgansWndrlnd

Morgan’s Wonderland and Inspiration Island embodies their mission statement in every aspect of the park, which is quoted below.

 “To provide a safe, clean and beautiful environment free of physical and economic barriers that all individuals – regardless of age, special need or disability – can come to and enjoy.”

Another aspect that makes this theme park special is the incredible staff. Morgan’s Wonderland Marketing staff member Elizabeth Talley reveals to Swimming World that 30 percent of their employees are disabled or have special needs. An employee of the park shares his experience.

“Before I came here [to Morgan’s Wonderland], I didn’t have an outlet. Coming here and knowing I can help others in their struggles, whether they have a disability or not, has really empowered me. It is my duty, my passion and calling to speak out for those with disabilities who otherwise can’t do so for themselves. I try to be the voice of reason for others.” – Bertha Jones

Jones is just one employee who found a home in Morgan’s Wonderland. The staff truly loves to be there, which shines every day in their engagement with each guest who walks into the park.

The Impact of the Visit

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @MorgansWndrlnd

Morgan’s Wonderland and Inspiration Island will leave a lasting impression long after you leave the park. The simple element of play and environment of inclusion for those with and without disabilities adds something positive to everyone’s experience.

Jillian Benfield, mother and writer, shares her experience after visiting the park with her children.  

“Today, I’m pretty sure I saw a snapshot of what that looks like. A place where no one is made to feel less, a place where we see disability as an integral part of who someone is instead of being viewed as something someone has. A place where all are welcome and celebrated for coming exactly as they are.” – Jillian Benfield

Morgan’s Wonderland and Inspiration Island are more than just a theme and water park. It is a place where builders have made it possible to shatter disability stereotypes. It is a place with zero judgement and full inclusion. Morgans Wonderland has became an dream-like safe haven. Kids of all abilities and needs should be able to have fun and challenge themselves in the water and beyond. May this park serve as a symbol of possibility to spur others on to include the marginalized and unite people of all abilities.

-Commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

9 comments

  1. Harriet Glickel

    Fantastic ! Wonderful opportunity for them to have fun.

  2. Julie Holl

    Michelle Vaughn is this what you were talking about? Looks like an awesome place.

  3. avatar
    Belle Siebenaler

    FYI: Morgan’s Wonderland Camp is coming to San Antonio in 2020. It will be an ultra-accessible camp for all ages and abilities and will include swimming, floating on a relaxing river, hiking, archery, horseback riding, ziplining and much more.

  4. avatar

    It’s an amazing place. Not just for the disabled. It’s amazing for everyone. Do you need to get your grandmother out of the house to have some fun? Take her for a train ride, let her sit on a moving bench in the carousel.

  5. avatar
    Nana

    So exciting! What adaptions do you offer for the blind?

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