When a kind father realized that there were no amusement parks for his disabled daughter and other people with disabilities to play with, he decided to build one. Gordon Hartman once took his daughter Morgan, 12, to a pool during a family vacation.
He thinks that they shied away from his daughter because they did not know how to react to someone with a developmental disability. Doctors have explained to Gordon that Morgan has the cognitive ability of a five-year-old, and they also diagnosed her with a form of autism!
As Gordon watched this incident at the pool with his joyful daughter, he began to think deeply on what he could do. “Morgan is just a wonderful young lady. When you meet her you will always get a smile and she will always want to offer a hug. But there were so many times we couldn’t take her places,” he said.
Gordon and his wife Maggie began searching for places to bring their daughter where she would feel comfortable and where others would feel comfortable interacting with her.
“We realized such an inclusive place didn’t exist,” Gordon said. So he decided to build it himself. Gordon sold his homebuilding businesses in 2005 and set up The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, a non-profit designed to help people with special needs and disabilities.
With the help of doctors, therapists, other parents and consultants, Gordon designed the “world’s first ultra-accessible theme park.” “We wanted a theme park where everyone could do everything, where people with and without special needs could play,” he said.
The 25-acre Morgan’s Wonderland amusement park was built in San Antonio, Texas for $ 34 million and opened in 2010. Includes a wheelchair-accessible Ferris wheel, an adventure park, wheelchair-accessible river rides, and a miniature train. To top off this beautiful project, Gordon decided to make admission free for anyone with special needs or a disability of any kind.
“I realized 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,” Gordon said. For many with disabilities who come to Morgan’s Wonderland, it’s the first time that they’ve been able to experience the rides and attractions.
Since its opening, they’ve had more than one million visitors from 67 countries and from every state in America. A third of the staff at Morgan’s Wonderland have disabilities as well, and the environment is full of love. The wonderland does not turn a profit, but kind sponsors and donors kindly help keep this beautiful park open.
“We open every year knowing we’re going to lose over $1m and we need to recover that through fundraising and partners,” Gordon said. They recently expanded to include Morgan’s Inspiration Island; a $17 million fully accessible water park.
“Fewer people were visiting in July because the wheelchairs got too hot, so we decided to create a water park next door.”
Several areas of the island feature warm water, which helps visitors with muscular conditions. The park also provides waterproof motorized wheelchairs to guests which run on compressed air rather than batteries.
For Gordon, the park has become more than just about helping his daughter. “Yesterday a man came up to me at Inspiration Island and just held my hand,” Gordon said. “He pointed to his son, who has acute special needs, and started crying. He said he hadn’t been able to play in the water before.”
Three out of four visitors to the park are not disabled, and this is exactly the type of atmosphere that Gordon wanted: one where the disabled and the non-disabled are able to play well together.
“It helps people realize that though we are different in some ways, actually we are all the same,” he said. “I saw one girl in a wheelchair go up to another girl without special needs, and they began playing together. That was really cool.”Gordan has received hundreds of letters and requests asking him to build similar theme parks in their area,
but rather than open multiple theme parks, he is now devoting his time towards providing educational facilities for teenagers with special needs. “I know there are a lot of different organizations trying to build something like Morgan’s Wonderland elsewhere and we’ll continue to work with them,” he said.
His daughter is now somewhat of a celebrity at the theme park, and everyone wants to play with and take their picture with her.“When she comes here she’s a rock star! Lots of people want to talk to her and take her picture, she’s very good with it,” Gordan said.