Skip to main content
Move the World.

Imagine seeing your child struggling or completely unable to enjoy normal recreational activities. Water parks, merry-go-rounds, theme parks - all childhood activities that unfortunately, many kids don’t not get to experience.

Gordon Hartman couldn’t find an amusement park that would accommodate his daughter, a person with special needs. So he did one any father would do. Using the money from the sale of his successful homebuilding business, he created one. Hartman built a completely accessible amusement park for kids with special needs in San Antonio, Texas called Morgan’s Wonderland. And this massive, “ultra-accessible” amusement park has all of us wanting to buy tickets.

“If you’re in a wheelchair and you go to a park, you look at a lot of rides and you just look at them. You don’t ever think about getting on them.”

Gordon Hartman

Navigating Disabilities

Leah is a young woman with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder which causes intellectual disabilities and physical developmental delays. For Leah’s family, taking her to an amusement park was likely a far-fetched dream. Leah is sensitive to large crowds, loud music, and bright lights.

“Elementary school was one of the hardest times for Leah. She wanted to play with friends but it was difficult. That’s devastating when you realize that your child knows they’re different.

Karen Meyer, Leah's Mom

Gordon Hartman is able to understand these sort of hurdles, as his daughter, Morgan, also has special needs. But Harmtan recognized that her disability shouldn’t hold her back from living a full life with the rest of her family and friends.

Building a Completely Inclusive & Handicap Accessible Park

Gordon Hartman will emphasize again and again - this is not an amusement park for kids with special needs. This is an amusement park for everyone.

“We did not want to build a special needs park. We wanted to build a park that was for everyone to enjoy. It’s a park of inclusion.”

Gordon Hartman

“We had to go to manufacturers and say ‘We need you to make these few changes.’ And they’re looking at us, like ‘Well, why? No one has ever asked us to this.’ And I said, ‘Well, I know, we’re trying to do something different.’”

Gordon Hartman

Nearly every component of Morgan’s Wonderland is customized. Take your standard merry-go-round - many children with physical or mental disabilities are not able to enjoy this ride. However the merry-go-round at Morgan’s Wonderland features a wheelchair ramp with extra wide doors for entry. The car - which is normally a static feature on a carousel - goes up and down like the rest of the animals. That way, every person is enjoying the same experience, together.

The park also has no fluorescent lighting, no latex, no blinking lights, and no loud music.

Perhaps one of the most impressive components of Morgan’s Wonderland is the water park. “We had the opportunity to work with the University of Pittsburgh to come up with a pneumatic chair so that anyone who came to Morgan’s Inspiration Island would be able to work with a chair that was propelled by air versus batteries. Which allowed it to get fully wet and enjoy the park 100%.” There is even an area of the water park that features warm water.

More Than an Amusement Park

Leah was able to enjoy Morgan’s Wonderland, first as an attendee, and now as an employee. One third of the park’s employees are people with special needs. Leah’s mother says that through her time at Morgan’s Wonderland, she continues to see her daughter grow.

“It’s really changed how their future will be. Because they don’t see differences in people. They just see a heart.”

Karen Meyer, Leah's Mom

Morgan’s Wonderland is more than just a park or a place for those with disabilities. Morgan’s Wonderland shows us that it’s not differences that divide us. Perhaps loud music, flashing lights, and uncomfortable situations make those differences feel larger than they truly are.

And when you lift those distractions, you open the opportunity for every person to be everything they were created to be.

Gordon Hartman is just one of the impressive people leading the charge for more inclusivity. And to develop his waterproof wheelchair, he worked with another Freethink subject, Dr. Rory Cooper. Watch Rory Cooper's Superhuman episode, the Robotic Wheelchair Revolution, to see more on how Dr. Cooper is chaining lives for people with disabilities.

Connect

Up Next

Biblical Plagues
Scientists Have Found the Locust Swarm Pheromone
locust swarm
Biblical Plagues
Scientists Have Found the Locust Swarm Pheromone
A locust swarm is flying famine, devouring millions of pounds of crops. Researchers have found the swarming trigger — and perhaps an answer to stopping it.

A locust swarm is flying famine, devouring millions of pounds of crops. Researchers have found the swarming trigger — and perhaps an answer to stopping it.

Public Heath
China Is Responding to the Coronavirus in a Way Only China Could
China Is Responding to the Coronavirus in a Way Only China Could
Public Heath
China Is Responding to the Coronavirus in a Way Only China Could
China is using its vast surveillance network and near-total control over citizens to respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in a way perhaps no other nation could.

China is using its vast surveillance network and near-total control over citizens to respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in a way perhaps no other nation could.

Year in Review
Freethink's Favorite Behind the Scenes Insights from 2019
Freethink's Favorite Behind the Scenes Insights from 2019
Year in Review
Freethink's Favorite Behind the Scenes Insights from 2019
Join Freethink's directors behind the scenes to discover the experiences and insights that went into creating some of our favorite videos from 2019.

Join Freethink's directors behind the scenes to discover the experiences and insights that went into creating some of our favorite videos from 2019.

Thinking Differently
The Joy of Being Wrong
The Joy of Being Wrong
Watch Now
Thinking Differently
The Joy of Being Wrong
Can practicing intellectual humility make us smarter and happier? Science says yes.
Watch Now

Arguments on social media are notorious. People often naturally form an echo chamber of people with similar beliefs, and when people outside it start arguments, the discussion often becomes antagonistic. Is there a better way? Science suggests that a good starting point is by practicing intellectual humility. By admitting the possibility that we ourselves could be wrong, we’re able to better evaluate arguments and construct...

Helping Prisoners Overcome Trauma with Dance
Helping Prisoners Overcome Trauma with Dance
Watch Now
Helping Prisoners Overcome Trauma with Dance
Women in prison are regaining a sense of freedom — through dance.
Watch Now

Dance to Be Free is a program helping female prisoners overcome trauma with dance. While the inmates at the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Corrections are physically incarcerated, the freedom that comes through dance helps them open up, enjoy themselves, and regain self-confidence. Founder Lucy Wallace began teaching dance in prison in order to help inmates, who often had unaddressed PTSD from physical or emotional...

Grandkids on Demand
Grandkids on Demand
Watch Now
Grandkids on Demand
A new service provides “grandkids on demand.”
Watch Now

Seniors often need help or companionship - but there might not be anyone to call. Papa is a new service that connects them with college students for help with household tasks, transportation, technology--and companionship. This allows seniors to maintain independence and stay in their homes rather than assisted living facilities. It also provides college students with a great way to earn extra cash and develop work...

Pop Revolution
Skatepunks of Myanmar
Skatepunks of Myanmar
Watch Now
Pop Revolution
Skatepunks of Myanmar
Is the booming skating scene in Myanmar a sign of a more hopeful future for the once isolated country?
Watch Now

After years of repression, smartphones and social media are giving Myanmar a taste of the outside world. And young people are eager to catch up on what they missed. We join a group of skaters who are reimagining life in the once isolated society and shaping its future in the process.

Culture
This Week in Ideas: Unveiling Google Earth VR, China Goes All in on CRISPR, Cuba's...
This Week in Ideas: Unveiling Google Earth VR, China Goes All in on CRISPR, Cuba's Cancer Vaccine
Culture
This Week in Ideas: Unveiling Google Earth VR, China Goes All in on CRISPR, Cuba's...
Google releases some beautiful VR, human trials of gene-editing technology CRISPR, and importing Cuba's cancer...
By Mike Riggs

Google releases some beautiful VR, human trials of gene-editing technology CRISPR, and importing Cuba's cancer vaccine.