Morgan’s Inspiration Island in San Antonio is first inclusive water park in the world
Water parks are known for being THE place to go and cool off in the summer months. But if you’re a parent with a kid that has disabilities you know the reality far too well: many are not accessible. Not even a little bit. That’s why a new water park in San Antonio is such a big deal; it was designed for kids with disabilities in mind so everyone can enjoy splashing around.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island opens today in San Antonio, Texas and as you can imagine, the anticipation is through the roof. Inspiration Island is an expansion of Morgan’s Wonderland, a theme park that was built to be inclusive for all its guests, including kids with disabilities. Just like Wonderland, all parts of the splash park are wheelchair-accessible. Additionally, admission for guests with disabilities is free.
“Like Morgan’s Wonderland, Morgan’s Inspiration Island is not a special-needs park; it’s a park of inclusion,” co-founder of Morgan’s, Gordon Hartman, says in a press release. “Both were designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment.”
This is not your typical $17 million theme park. For starters, the inclusiveness of the park goes well beyond wheelchair accessibility and some of the features are truly ground breaking. There are fast passes for those who have trouble waiting in line, private areas to transfer from one wheelchair to another (i.e. going from a non-waterproof wheelchair to a waterproof one), RFID (radio-frequency identification) wristbands that can help find kids who wander, and quiet areas for folks who get overwhelmed by crowds and noise, according to CNN.
Additionally, the park can change the water temperature quickly for guests who are sensitive to cold water.
“Children and adults who have special needs are sometimes left out, not because they want to be but because sometimes things are not always adequate for them to use,” Hartman said.
The team behind Inspiration Island consulted with water park professionals, doctors and experts in special education and special needs. They also received input from local teachers, parents, and caregivers. That’s not all. They collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh to develop air-powered, waterproof wheelchairs (no batteries). The chairs run longer, weigh less, and guests with disabilities can check them out for free.
Undoubtedly, theme parks like this should be the norm. They should all be designed this way. All it took was thinking outside of the box, getting creative, and making small adjustments. It also took two parents who’ve gone through our society’s idea of inclusiveness to make something that truly was inclusive.
Gordon and Maggie Hartman’s daughter Morgan, who is now 23, has physical and cognitive challenges. The amusement park and water park are their creations inspired by her. “She wanted to experience activities and felt left out of opportunities,” he said.
Hartman opened Morgan’s Wonderland in 2010 which had a small area in it called Water Works. That’s what ended up sparking the larger idea for Inspiration Island.
“What we’ve already seen is that it does work,” Hartman said. “We’ve had children of severe special needs playing alongside other children in a water environment.”
This environment is about more than kids splashing around. It’s about kids coming together, those with needs and those without, to have fun, learn, and understand each other. We wish every kid attraction was like this.
While Hartman doesn’t have plans to franchise, he does hope to inspire others with his design.
“Our hope is that more of these kind of adaptions will occur in all parks,” he said. “Most parks open for 90% to enjoy. The other 10% can’t because of special needs. There’s no reason for parks to present opportunities and experiences for just 90% of population.”
And unlike many other theme parks, Morgan’s is non-profit. Hartman operates the park at half capacity so no one gets overwhelmed, and again, guests with special needs are admitted at no cost.
“It is the most fulfilling work I could ask for,” he said. “It’s better than making a dollar. This isn’t even work, this is something different. I don’t wake up for work feeling tired, I wake up wanting to get started.”