Playing At This Ultra-Accessible Water Park Is "Like Waking Up One Day and Being Able to Fly"
"Everything just seems... made for different people." Those words came from a mom, expressing her dismay over the options for fun and play that were available to her daughter, Sammi.
Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, 8 year old Sammi always had limited opportunities to run around on playgrounds or feel the thrill of a rollercoaster. The fragility of her small frame kept her on the sidelines at most parks—until her family found a place that had been designed to be "ultra-accessible and fully inclusive."
Morgan's Wonderland and Inspiration Island is a combination amusement park and water park located in San Antonio, Texas. Its founder Gordon Hartman was inspired to create the park by his daughter Morgan, a woman living with special needs, but he is firm in insisting that "it is not a special-needs park." He wanted Morgan's Wonderland to be a place where kids with special needs and those without would interact, something that is rare in places of play. About one in every four visitors to the parks has special needs, including both kids and parents.
One crucial element of designing a water park that was accessible to all was a logistical one: motorized wheelchairs are not water-proof. This didn't slow Gordon down. He reached out to Rory Cooper, founder of Human Engineering Research Laboratories—which develops technology to improve mobility for people with disabilities—for help. Rory had just the thing! His lab was about to finalize a wheelchair that ran on compressed air, no batteries or electrical wires required.
Between Gordon and Rory, the first fully wheelchair-accessible water park was born. And it's changing lives.
"I would say it's like somebody waking up one day and being able to fly. You're free," said one visitor to the park.
Gordon has a larger mission in mind for his parks. "People can see what goes on here, and say, 'hey, we need to put more attention to the special needs community,'" he said. "If we can take that concept, that culture, that idea, that feeling of what exists here, and make that within society, then we're affecting a lot of people.