Morgan’s Wonderland is an ultra-accessible theme park based in San Antonio, Texas, where everyone can have fun.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 17, 2022. It has since been updated.
Gordon Hartman was heartbroken as he watched his 12-year-old daughter unable to make friends at a swimming pool during a family vacation. His daughter Morgan is autistic and was born with cognitive and physical special needs. He started searching for an inclusive public place that would be fun for everyone. When he found no such place, he decided to build one himself. That's how he started Morgan’s Wonderland, an ultra-accessible theme park in San Antonio, Texas. It's a place for everyone, where people with and without disabilities can come together for fun and a better understanding of one another.
“It’s a park for 100 percent of the people, not one for 90 or 80 percent of them, it’s for everybody, no matter how acute their special need maybe,” Hartman told PEOPLE. “That’s what my dream was.” Hartman also said that anyone with a disability is admitted free of charge, no questions asked.
Hartman wanted to create a place where no child would feel discriminated against. “It’s about not letting anyone feel different. That’s what we tried to do with this park,” he said. The park opened in 2010 and became the world’s first theme park designed with disabled people in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. The completely wheelchair-accessible park features more than 25 elements, including rides, playgrounds and other colorful attractions. Hartman made his fortune as a homebuilder, starting as a landscaper at the age of 15. He began his own homebuilding business at 19 and started a land development company by the age of 23. His company was the largest locally owned homebuilding and land-development enterprise in San Antonio.
Hartman's love for Morgan is what drove him to sell his companies in 2005 and establish the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation so he and his wife, Maggie, could help children and adults with disabilities. He built the theme park in a manner that incorporates people with and without disabilities and removes the barrier between them. He believes accessibility is the key to acceptance and camaraderie between children as well. He collaborated with architects, engineers, doctors and therapists to design the $35 million park. Among the many attractions are a fully accessible train, playground and a Ferris wheel. The park also provides special wristbands that can track the whereabouts of visitors, which is handy for people with autism.
The park is inclusive about hiring as well, with one-third of its staff being people with special needs. He also started a fully accessible $17 million water park called Morgan’s Inspiration Island, and the park provides waterproof wheelchairs free of charge and also complimentary waterproof bags for ventilators and O2 water-collar covers for guests who need to cover tracheas. Morgan's Inspiration Island was recognized by Time Magazine in its World's Greatest Places list in 2018.
Hartman has had many tearful parents thank him for creating an accessible space for people with disabilities. He recalled the time an emotional father held his hand and started crying. He pointed to his adult son playing in the water and said he had never seen his kid play. Another couple thanked them for helping their daughter enjoy the park as opposed to being a spectator. “So many people told us that this would be an opportunity for our daughter to finally have a place where she wouldn’t have to sit on the sidelines, she could actually do everything,” they told him. It's the happiness of visitors that drives him on. "That’s exactly what this whole place is about.”