7 minute read

A waterpark for everyone, regardless of ability

Waterparks are first and foremost places where you can relax and enjoy yourself. They enable families to create great memories, individuals to experience joy, and communities to be generally happier.

They can bring even greater joy to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, most waterparks are not designed with those people in mind – and there are obvious difficulties in getting people in wheelchairs onto waterslides, for example.

The waterpark is accessible for everyone

But times are changing, and more waterparks are being built with at least some elements that are easily accessible – especially the splash and spray elements.

One location has taken that idea and smashed it out of the park – Morgan’s Inspiration Island.

An inspiration to help a community come together

Morgan’s Inspiration Island in San Antonio, Texas, is billed as the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park where guests of all ages and abilities can get wet and have fun together.

It opened last year next to the unique Morgan’s Wonderland theme park, which also caters for people and especially kids with disabilities.

Both the theme park and the waterpark were inspired by Morgan Hartman and her ability to smile through physical and cognitive challenges.

“Rainbow Reef has warmer water for guests with sensitivity to cold.”

Her parents, Gordon and Maggie Hartman, decided to do something never before accomplished for individuals with special needs and their families – not only to create a one-of-akind theme park but also a unique school and other initiatives benefitting the special-needs community.

The joy of splashing

The tipping point occurred in 2005 when Gordon observed Morgan wanting to play with other vacationing kids at a hotel swimming pool, but the kids were wary of Morgan and didn’t want to interact with her. Then and there, he resolved to create opportunities and places where those with and without disabilities can come together not only for fun but also for a better understanding of each other.

That led to the construction of Morgan’s Wonderland in an abandoned quarry in northeast San Antonio, taking as its symbol Joy the soaring butterfly. The completely wheelchair-accessible park features more than 25 elements including rides, playgrounds and other colourful attractions. From the very beginning, anyone with a special need has been admitted free of charge, no questions asked.

World’s first fully accessible splash park

Morgan’s Inspiration Island waterpark is not for disabled people – it’s for everyone.

“Like Morgan’s Wonderland, Morgan’s Inspiration Island is not a special-needs park; it’s a park of inclusion,” says Gordon Hartman. “Both were designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment.

“We decided to call it Morgan’s Inspiration Island because Morgan truly has been the catalyst for every project we’ve pursued to help the special-needs community,” he says.

As with Morgan’s Wonderland, the waterpark admits anyone with a special need free of charge.

Abled and disabled people are welcome

“Our goal is to provide a great guest experience in an inclusive, safe, comfortable, not-overly-crowded environment,” says Hartman. “When Morgan’s Wonderland opened in spring 2010, we really didn’t know what to expect, but the park’s popularity has grown tremendously and encouraged us to add Morgan’s Inspiration Island.

“Now, we have two attractions like none other that everyone – regardless of ability or age – can enjoy. Morgan’s Inspiration Island promises to give individuals with physical or cognitive special needs a place where they can splash and play without barriers.”

Morgan’s Inspiration Island overlooks the theme park’s 3.2 hectare catch-and-release fishing lake. The focal point is a seven-storey lighthouse with a rotating beacon on top that can be seen from a kilometre away.

A tropical island park

There are six major elements in the $17-million, tropically-themed island park.

The largest is the River Boat Adventure ride, which twists and turns for more than five minutes through a jungle setting with bird and animal sounds in the background.

Additionally there are five water play areas: Hang 10 Harbor, Rainbow Reef, Shipwreck Island, Harvey’s Hideaway Bay and Calypso Cove. These offer a variety of splashy elements such as raintrees, waterfalls, pools, geysers, water jets, water cannons and tipping buckets.

Special wheelchairs have been designed for the aquatic environment

As with Morgan’s Wonderland, every Morgan’s Inspiration Island element is wheelchairaccessible, and waterproof wristbands with RFID technology are available so parents can go to a Location Station and easily ascertain the whereabouts of their children and other members of their party.

Other special features include warmer water temperatures at Rainbow Reef so guests with sensitivity to cold can still splash and play.

It’s a great chance for family members to interact and have fun  

Innovative wheelchairs

“In addition, we recently unveiled with the University of Pittsburgh revolutionary new wheelchairs propelled by compressed air,” says Hartman.

“Our guests in expensive battery-powered wheelchairs can’t afford to get them wet, so we have special Morgan’s Inspiration Island PneuChairs available first-come, first-served, along with two other waterproof wheelchair models – a push-stroller type for guests needing assistance from a caregiver for mobility and a rigid-frame, manual wheelchair for guests who can push themselves. The first PneuChairs to go into service are prototypes that are already undergoing significant improvements.”

Gordon Hartman set up a foundation to build the parks  

Hartman says spacious private areas are available where guests can transfer out of their wheelchairs into Morgan’s Inspiration Island waterproof wheelchairs. Other facilities include the Rusty Anchor Galley Grub and Little Italy Bistro food outlets for snacks and beverages; the Surf Shack Gifts and Gear sundries shop offering items such as sunscreen and souvenirs; a panoramic viewing deck; an air-conditioned party/meeting room; and private cabanas for rent.

The splash park has been designed with water conservation in mind and water used in the various play elements is filtered continuously, recirculated, and stored in huge underground concrete tanks when the park is not in operation.

As with the theme park, the waterpark is not just for those with disabilities.

There is no charge for disabled patrons  

“Those without disabilities and those with, including individuals in wheelchairs, guests with hearing and visual impairments and even guests on ventilators, can play alongside each other and gain a greater appreciation of each other,” he says.

“For the past three years, we’ve been collaborating with water park consultants from Texas, Arizona, Florida and Canada as well as local doctors, special-needs therapists, specialeducation teachers, parents and caregivers. We believe Morgan’s Inspiration Island will be tremendously popular because both children and adults in wheelchairs will be able to have fun in the South Texas sun.”

The splash park adds to the growing family of “Wonderland, Texas” destinations in the old Longhorn Quarry, including Morgan’s Wonderland, The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland school for students with special needs and the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletonUSA (CRIT USA), a non-profit rehab centre for children born with or suffering from neurological, muscular or skeletal disorders and injuries.

Additional facilities to help special-needs individuals are already in the planning stages.

Contact: www.MorgansWonderland.com


Native San Antonian Gordon V. Hartman is a philanthropist and former businessman who at the age of 15 started his own landscaping business while attending a local seminary. By age 19, he had saved enough to begin his homebuilding business, and by age 23, he had started a land development company. Founded in 1983, Gordon Hartman Homes built housing for low- to moderateincome families. Over the next 22 years, Hartman grew his company into the largest locally owned homebuilding and land development enterprise in San Antonio.In 2005, he sold his companies and established The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation so he and wife Maggie could pursue their dream of helping children and adults with special needs. In 2007, he recognised the tremendous need for fully accessible outdoor recreational facilities, so he made another dream come true – Morgan’s Wonderland. Two years later, global automotive giant Toyota, a leader in mobility solutions for drivers with disabilities, opted to become the presenting sponsor of Morgan’s Wonderland under a long-term philanthropic agreement with Hartman.
The Hartman family  
Morgan’s Wonderland has welcomed more than a million guests from 65 countries through park participation and special events. In June 2017, he unveiled a major expansion to Morgan’s Wonderland – the $17-million Morgan’s Inspiration Island, the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park.Hartman also has played a key role in partnering with the $17 million CRIT clinic, modelled after successful CRITs in Mexico. The park plays an important role in the healing process by offering families respite from their treatment regimen and a chance to make memories together in a fun atmosphere.Because of his generosity and vision, Hartman has earned extensive local, regional and national recognition including an honorary Doctorate of Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University.