After months of planning and saving, one father's long journey from Maine to San Antonio, TX, was worth every difficult mile. For the first time, he and his son, who has severe cerebral palsy, rode a carousel together.
This is the kind of story that Gordon Hartman hears all the time from guests at Morgan's Wonderland, the ultra-accessible amusement park that he created. Hartman is the founder of the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, a non-profit that provides funding and consulting services to agencies that assist families with special-needs children. Driven by a desire to create an inclusive place where people of all abilities could play together, Hartman built a 25-acre park named for his 17-year-old daughter, who has cognitive delays and physical challenges due to autism spectrum disorder.
Morgan's Wonderland operates as a nonprofit, which allows Hartman to keep the cost of admission low. People with special needs are admitted free, as are children age two and under. General admission for adults is $15 and $10 for children.
When planning the park, Hartman consulted physicians, physical therapists, people with special needs, and caregivers. “Sometimes amusement parks are built for people without taking into consideration people with special-needs, and it's only afterwards that park developers think about how to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. I wanted to put special needs first.”
For example, the specially designed carousel is level with the ground so that no one has to step up to board. Many of the animals on the carousel have a unique saddle—shaped like the back of a chair—to lend additional support to the rider, and some don't move up and down at all. The dragon is designed to accommodate a person in a wheelchair, and a bench allows a family member to go along for the ride.
Kids can hop aboard a miniature train that circles the eight-acre lake. Three playgrounds on top of composite rubber surfaces are located under awnings where water misters help keep everyone cool. Adapted and traditional swings allow guests—even those in a wheelchair—to soar. Over in the Sensory Village, children can shop in a grocery store, catch animated butterflies in an interactive theater, and announce the weather in a simulated TV station. And if children become overstimulated, they can rest in the Garden Sanctuary.
Safety is paramount at the park, which has eight-foot tall perimeter fencing, a public address system, and video surveillance. All guests wear radio frequency identification wristbands. If a child becomes separated from his or her group, other group members can scan their wristbands at one of the location station monitors to find the child.
Since Morgan's Wonderland opened two years ago, more than 200,000 people from all 50 states and 30 countries have visited. With inquiries from more than 20 cities globally about building a Morgan's Wonderland in their community, Hartman says, “This is only the beginning of something bigger.”
Barbara and Jim Twardowski, R.N.