Morgan's Wonderland

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After a father realized there were no amusement parks his disabled daughter could visit he quit his multimillion dollar business and decided to build one for her.

Accessibility is often an issue for those with special needs

Accessibility is often an issue for those with special needs
© Denys Kuvaiev/123RF

The rush of a rollercoaster or even the simple pleasure of sitting on a swing are what make amusement parks some of the most popular leisure activities in the world, but for those with special needs it's a delight that is all too often out of reach.

Theme parks aren't the only places that pose difficulties though, as father Gordon Hartman well knows. Ten years ago on a family holiday with his then 12 year old daughter, Morgan, he saw her shunned by group of children playing in the pool.

He attributes their behavior to not knowing how to react to someone with a disability - Morgan suffers from a form of autism and has the cognitive understanding of a five year old.

Happy Fathers Day to you and yours! Seven years ago Mr. Hartman opened #MorgansWonderland in honor of his largest inspiration, his daughter Morgan. Yesterday, we celebrated this father-daughter duo in an amazing way, as we opened #MorgansInspirationIsland. We might be a little biased, but we think that's pretty incredible. ????????????#MorgansInspirationIsland #MorgansWonderland #TexasToDo #accessibility #inclusion #fathersday

Une publication partagée par Morgan's Wonderland (@morganswonderlandtexas) le

Unhappy with the status quo, Hartman quit his multimillion dollar business and vowed to create an amusement park that everyone could enjoy ? a theme park for those with special needs: Morgan's Wonderland.

Working tirelessly with architects, engineers, doctors, and therapists to realize his project, Hartman invested 35 million dollars into the park which opened its doors to the public in 2010 in San Antonia, Texas.

Since then the park has received over a million visitors from 67 different countries, free of charge for anyone with a disability.

On the subject of cost Harman says "I realised Morgan was one of the lucky ones because she had many of the things she needed. I didn't want cost to be a barrier for others with special needs.

"We open every year knowing we're going to lose over one million dollars and we need to recover that through fundraising and partners."

A third of the staff has disabilities and the park offers a taste of excitement usually not available to the millions of people living with disabilities across the world. The park boasts a fully-accessible Ferris wheel, an adventure playground and a miniature train amidst a whole host of other attractions which are accessible to all visitors.

For Hartman the soul of the project was to make sure it was "a park for 100 percent of the people, not one for 90 or 80 percent of them, it's for everybody, no matter how acute their special need may be," he explains,

"That's what my dream was."

And the dream shows no sign of slowing down with a new 13 million dollar waterpark having opened earlier this year. The first of its kind - perfectly tailored for those with special needs. The waterpark features a warm water sections to help visitors with muscular problems as well as special waterproof motorized wheelchairs which are available to all guests.

"Yesterday a man came up to me at Inspiration Island and just held my hand," Mr Hartman said.

"He pointed to his son, who has acute special needs and started crying. He said he hadn't been able to play in water before."

As the park goes from better to better so does Hartman's inspiration; his daughter.

"She talks more now and most of her physical issues have been taken care of through numerous surgeries. We're so proud of how far she has come."

"Morgan knows the park is named after her, but I don't think she understands the magnitude of what it represents and how it's changed lives," Hartman says.

"She doesn't realise how she has dealt with things in life has made her a true inspiration."

THIS is what it's all about! ?? #inclusion. #MorgansInspirationIsland #Repost from @ceeferd ??? The boys found a new friend at Inspiration Island. They chased each other around the splash pad.

Une publication partagée par Morgan's Wonderland (@morganswonderlandtexas) le

Hartman's vision from the beginning has been to bring people together and with three out of four guests admitted to the park being without disabilities he believe he's coming closer that goal.

"It helps people realise that though we are different in some ways, actually we are all the same," he says.

"I saw one girl in a wheelchair go up to another girl without special needs, and they began playing together. That was really cool."

Hartman's passion and unwillingness to see his daughter live a life any less rich than everybody else's has created a theme park that transcends the social stigma and practical challenges faced by so many. The park is heaven without barriers for those with special needs but also for their families, caregivers, friends and the public and is a testament to the spirit of Hartman and his family.

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Benjamin Jacques
Posted on 11/08/2017 8 shares
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