Morgan’s Inspiration Island, described by its staff as the world’s first ultra accessible splash park, opened in June in San Antonio. It is adjacent two campuses with similar goals of inclusivity. Morgan’s Wonderland, the first theme park designed with special needs individuals in mind, and the Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland, a school for students ages 12 to 24 with special needs, also sit there.
Morgan Hartman, a 23-year-old with cognitive and physical special needs, is the inspiration behind it all. Hartman’s parents, Gordon and Maggie, founded the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation in 2005 to assist nonprofit organizations supporting those with special needs in Texas’ Bexar County. Gordon Hartman was struck when he witnessed other children excluding his daughter in games. He began to scour the country in search of a place that brought individuals with and without special needs together to interact. When he couldn’t find such a place, he consulted with special-needs professionals to develop plans for the parks that exist today.
The parks’ popularity is evidence that Hartman was not alone in his desires for all-inclusive facilities. More than a million visitors from all 50 states and 67 countries have visited the 25-acre Morgan’s Wonderland since it opened in 2010. The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland, which opened in 2011, is maxed out with 45 students. Communications director Bob McCullough says the Hartmans are looking for ways to expand.
The recent installment of Morgan’s Inspiration Island, which is four acres, has received international media attention and an influx of visitors to the property as well.
Guests with special needs are admitted to either park free of charge. Everything in both is wheelchair accessible. Additionally Hartman’s team partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to develop the PNEUchair, a waterproof wheelchair available at Morgan’s Inspiration Island. Morgan’s Inspiration is also equipped with extra large changing areas and is able to adjust water temperatures for those sensitive to sensory change.
“A lot of ingenuity and innovation has gone into the park,” McCollough says.
McCollough says Hartman chose a highly visible location because he wanted remind people the special needs community want to live life to the fullest like anyone else. The site was a rock quarry, but sat barren for 30 years.
“Our logo is a butterfly, which symbolizes a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, spreading its wings and going higher than it thought it was capable of going,” says McCollough, whose 18-year-old daughter is a student at the Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland. “It’s such an inspiring place to be. Working here is one of the most rewarding things I’ve had the privilege of doing.”