Over the years our nation’s amusement and theme parks have made select rides and attractions wheelchair accessible, Braille equipped, or otherwise friendly toward travelers with disabilities. But that wasn’t enough for former real estate developer Gordon Hartman who envisioned a different kind of park for the millions of kids and adults with special needs, among them his teenage daughter Morgan.
So Hartman helped raise $32 million to break ground last spring at the former site of the Longhorn Quarry in San Antonio. The result is the 25-acre Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first “ultra-accessible family fun park” specifically designed for individuals with special needs. The park has its grand opening on April 10th but has been quietly admitting visitors since March 3rd.
It’s clear that fun is as high a priority here as accessibility. A sandbox is not only accessible to those in wheelchairs but also has a raised sand table that permits a more hands-on experience. People with disabilities and caregivers can sit together on the carousel, which has wheelchair-accessible chariots whose movements mimic those of the carousel’s horses. Also, “children of all ages and abilities can share the experience of swinging and playing together” as the park has comingled standard infant bucket swings with molded plastic ADA-compliant swings and wheelchair swings.
Since everything is big in Texas, the park’s also packed with a stocked eight-acre fishing lake, a “sensory village” that permits interaction with different colors, lights, sounds, and textures, an events center, and an amphitheater. There are no restaurants on property yet but there are snacks for sale and you’re permitted to picnic with your own food in designated areas.
The fishing lake and the park itself are ringed with fencing, and reservations are required for park entry, in part to limit the crowds but also so the park can get your family into its database and issue you all locator wristbands upon arrival. If someone in your party gets lost, any one of you can scan his own wristband at one of several touchscreen stations to locate the lost person.
The one aspect of Morgan’s Wonderland that isn’t Texas-sized is the price: Parking is free, as is admission for individuals with special needs and all kids 0-3. People accompanying special needs individuals pay $5, and general admission is $15.