Handicap Accessible Water Park Making a Splash in Central Texas

Via Page Levin & CNN

handicap accessible water parkWhen families walk in to the Morgan’s Inspiration Island water park in San Antonio, they won’t find any wheelchair ramps at one of the park’s main attractions: the riverboat adventure.

Instead, the boats will rise to meet them, so guests with disabilities can avoid the trouble that often accompanies those with special needs at amusement parks. That’s the idea behind the world’s first ultra-accessible water park, creator Gordon Hartman said. The main goal: inclusion for those with and without disabilities.

“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.

That’s not the case at this $17 million tropical-themed park.

There are fast passes for those who have trouble waiting in line, private areas to transfer from one wheelchair to another, waterproof wristbands to help find those who tend to wander and quiet areas for those who may get overwhelmed by crowds.

The park even has a way to change the water temperature quickly for guests sensitive to cold water.

Working with the University of Pittsburgh, it has also developed a waterproof wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of batteries. It runs longer and weighs less, and guests with special needs can check them out for free.

Admission also is free for those with disabilities. “It’s not about the rides,” Hartman said. “It’s about the culture and the feeling people have in the park.”

The Idea Behind It

Morgan’s Inspiration Island sits just next door to Hartman’s first endeavor, Morgan’s Wonderland. That fully accessible theme park developed from Hartman’s experience with his daughter. Morgan, 23, deals with both cognitive and physical challenges.

“She wanted to experience activities and felt left out of opportunities,” he said. So he opened the $35 million park in 2010. Three years later, a small area called Water Works inside Morgan’s Wonderland sparked an idea.

“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.” Hartman said his parks are built on input from the community. He said he consulted with doctors, parents and special-needs therapists.

Current park attendance is about 100,000 per year, but Hartman thinks the addition of the water park will double attendance. “We’re a nonprofit,” Hartman said. “I don’t get a salary. No one within the park makes any more than six figures.”

Photo credit – Robin Jerstand – Jerstad Photographics

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