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Theme Park Accessibility Done Right

Little boy on wheelchair swing laughing.

Imagine eagerly anticipating a trip to your favorite theme park, only to find that recent changes to their disability access program have made it even more challenging to enjoy the fun and excitement of your favorite rides and experiences. No one wants to feel left out, abandoned, or unwanted, but it's the reality for many when faced with dream vacations spoiled and plans in urgent need of readjustment as people with access needs are given more hurdles to overcome in their experience of everyday life.

Although speculation about why changes have come so abruptly is rampant for Disneyland's new, restrictive policy limiting who qualifies for their Disability Access Services program at the USA theme parks, one thing is for certain: people with access needs are trying to find more inclusive options. Luckily, Morgan's Wonderland exists- an Ultra-Accessible™ place of joy, wonder, and magic.

A purple Ultra Accessible logoWhat does Ultra-Accessible™ mean?

If you've ever had the experience of being separated from your friends or family members in order to take a ramp and meet them at the top of a stairway, you know that although a place is accessible, that doesn't mean it feels inclusive. Everyone, especially children and people with developing minds, can feel the dissonance between accessibility and inclusion in these simple cases. Ultra-Accessible™ spaces aim to change that, bridge the gap, and allow everyone to feel not just accepted, but welcomed.

"Ultra-Accessible™ means that everyone has the same opportunity to be included and participate intentionally in their community. An Ultra-Accessible™ community should provide environments for people of all abilities where they are set up for mobility, access, and success. Furthermore, Ultra-Accessible™ environments should include adaptations and accommodations which blend in seamlessly to the surroundings and never attract unnecessary attention to their use or existence. [...] Not only does Ultra-Accessibility™ go above and beyond the ADA standards, but it is also committed to furthering Ultra-Accessible™ and Universal Design concepts in all Morgan’s Wonderland-related projects."

Morgan's MAC Website

Being Ultra-Accessible™ is about more than ADA-compliance- it's about making sure the largest possible community of people can access everything alongside one another, with as few barriers as possible for their adapted experience. Everywhere in Morgan's Wonderland and associated properties, you'll find ways to involve yourself and your loved ones in games, learning, services, and rich environments full of ways to experience the world. 

A picture of the Hartman family, with Morgan Hartman sitting between her parents Gordon and Maggie.Morgan's Wonderland: Accessible Paradise

Morgan's Wonderland is a theme park located in San Antonio, Texas, established in 2010 as the world's first Ultra-Accessible™ theme park. Creator Gordon Hartman was inspired to create inclusive spaces after witnessing his daughter, Morgan, struggle to interact with other children at a hotel swimming pool due to her disabilities.

Since this theme park was built from the foundation up with access needs in mind, the extensive amenities present are beyond impressive, including:

  • Wheelchair-accessible experiences which allow for both transferring and remaining in one's chair at their discretion 
  • Playgrounds surrounded by soft, squishy rubberized flooring with four types of swing styles, including molded bucket seats, wheelchair swings, tire swings, and seated swings, as well as accessible sand tools and toys.
  • Specially trained staff equipped to help secure wheelchairs into the swings, too!
  • A carousel with wheelchair-accessible chariots which move up and down among their traditional horse counterparts, no bright lights, and a stationary horse placed outside the carousel just in case those considering riding want to get a safer and more slow familiarity with the ride before actually going on
  • Experiences which include optional toggles for things like motion, if a guest with access needs chooses not to experience certain aspects of a ride or attraction
  • A four-seater zipline experience inclusive of space for respiratory equipment and additional restraints for riders who need them
  • An inclusive outdoor amphitheater employing people of all abilities to perform as an inclusive cast of actors for guests
  •  An Ultra-Accessible™ covered area full of picnic tables where guests are encouraged to bring packed lunches to accommodate special dietary needs
  • Catch-and-release fishing opportunities with a stocked lake and accessible areas to fish

And that's just the core park! 

An image of the accessible pirate ship themed splash pad at Morgan's Inspiration Island.Morgan's Inspiration Island: A Cool Expansion for Access

Morgan's Inspiration Island is an additional area of Morgan's Wonderland focused on water play, primarily as a "splash park." While this area is only open during summer, it's an incredible adventure into accessible fun for families of all sizes and abilities. Your equipment isn't even an access barrier here:

"In keeping with the Morgan’s Wonderland mission of inclusion and the desire to enable everyone to play, wheelchair users have the opportunity to transfer into waterproof wheelchairs provided by the park, free of charge. The park also provides complimentary waterproof bags for ventilators and O2 water-collar covers for guests who need to cover tracheas. We proudly provide three types of waterproof wheelchairs that fit a variety of heights and sizes to ensure EVERYONE can fully embrace the freedom of accessible, inclusive play." 

Morgan's Inspiration Island Website

Rain curtains, musical experiences, giant treehouses, warm-water splash pads with accessibility features only found at Morgan's Inspiration Island, an Ultra-Accessible™ jungle riverboat ride, pirate ship slides and themed rain trees are just a handful of the highlights found in this amazing expansion. 

Morgan's Inspiration Island will open May 17th this year, so you can start planning that summer vacation right away!

The Morgan's Wonderland Camp logo.Morgan's Camp

Inspired by summer camp and the fun memories made there, Morgan's Camp is open year-round, even if it does experience the most immersive excitement in the warmer seasons. Right now, you can book a Family Weekend with Morgan's Camp, otherwise exclusive to those who are Morgan's Camp official Partners. Any person with an access need can book directly with Morgan's Camp to get complimentary lodging and activities, and will only pay a small fee to cover meals.

Activities here suit a broad range of desires: challenge courses where all guests can participate alongside one another regardless of access need at the challenge level suited to their style, the first all-inclusive zipline in the world, engaging hands-on encounters with barnyard animals, indoor sports, arts and crafts studio activities, water activities, inclusive biking, and of course tons of campfire songs and skits at the amphitheater! 

Morgan's...World!

Morgan's Wonderland may have been the spark, but it sure lit a fuse! Beyond theme parks and summer camps, there exists new realms of accessible and inclusive experiences.

Morgan's Sports consists of a 3-acre Ultra-Accessible™  sports center, offering fitness programs and a variety of ways to participate in exercise and movement. There are three ways to experience Morgan's Sports:

  • Open Play, no membership required, with a $5 facility fee each visit available on select days, with a covered pavilion for basketball, tennis courts, pickleball courts, and softball fields on a first-come, first-serve basis
  • Programs, which come in two varieties: STRAPS and Inclusive Sports. South Texas Regional Adaptive & Para Sports (STRAPS), an existing Morgan’s Wonderland program, "administers a dozen Paralympic-style sport programs to wounded service members and veterans, alongside other youth and adults with physical disabilities." Inclusive Sports is a new program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but anyone and everyone is welcome, as the program will start with a focus on soccer and basketball. 
  • Rentals, in which you can rent facilities for private events including fundraisers.
Morgan's Multi-Assistance Center, or MAC, is described as "a center that improves the lives of individuals with disabilities and special needs through comprehensive and coordinated services. Morgan’s MAC’s services use a family-centered approach with full collaboration from the family, MAC Member, and community partners known as MACers (pronounced 'MACK-ers')." People served under the MAC are called MAC Members, not patients. They go on to say that the MAC provides "healthcare, social services, and other services which all come together to make up our disabilities and special needs multi-assistance center."

While disability access is an ongoing effort which requires time, energy, and conversations from many, there are still amazing places like Morgan's Wonderland out there to explore and feel welcomed. 

Do you know any accessible theme parks or places with great accessibility services? Let us know on any of our social media or e-mail us!

 

Images courtesy of Morgan's Wonderland.