Morgan’s Wonderland, in San Antonio, TX, is 25 acres of thoughtfulness. The inclusive theme park is welcoming to all. All areas of the park are wheelchair accessible, even the carousel. The water is piped in at air temperature to not be overstimulating. Wristbands, through subtle design choices, give a heads up to staff if someone is non-verbal. There is plenty of space so you can be in a crowd or take in the sights away from people. The staff look like the guests. All guests with special needs receive free admission which allows people to come and go more easily. The only high tech innovation is the wheelchairs. People can trade in their chairs for the day and get a waterproof chair to enjoy the water park.
Gordon and Maggie Hartman are open with the story that inspired the park. Their daughter Morgan, who has physical and cognitive challenges, went over to play with other children in a hotel pool. The children did not play with her. Within five years, the Hartman’s made the theme park a reality so that kids could learn more about each other.
On the day I went, there were so many awesome people there. There was a group from Arkansas who had planned and saved for the vacation for six months. The day before they got to go play, they all volunteered at the park doing clean up. There was a family with their young child there through Make-A-Wish. They gushed about how well the park staff had treated them and the Mom had tears of joy running down her face when her son guffawed getting splashed by a huge wave in his waterproof chair. She mentioned what a relief it was to be there and she hoped that more people knew about the park. I met a San Antonio local who takes his grandson every other weekend. He loves that he can chill on one of the many benches while his grandson does his 3 favorite rides and then wants to go home ASAP.
The most revelatory thing about the park was that the accommodations weren’t that special, minus the wheelchairs designed and constructed at the University of Pittsburgh’s HERL lab. It was the eye for detail and the combination of all the little things that make the park so special. More places could be like this and I hope others find inspiration from this amazing place.