Dad creates fully accessible theme park inspired by daughter
Morgan Hartman was born with both physical and cognitive disabilities. For years though, she lacked a diagnosis. One thing she did have: a happy spirit. Her dad, Gordon Hartman, never wanted to see that spirit dulled. But unfortunately, at times it was.
“In 2006, we were on a family vacation where I watched Morgan not be able to participate in a pool activity with three other children, and it was simply because she was not able to be verbal,” Hartman told CBS News. “It almost puts a lump in your throat because it gives you a sad feeling that, all Morgan wanted was to participate. She just wanted to play.”
After seeing his daughter excluded, Hartman started on a quest to create a space where no one felt left out. His idea: an inclusive theme park.
He had experience as a builder and enlisted help from other experts to turn his dream into what is now Morgan’s Wonderland.
Hartman says the San Antonio theme park isn’t just for people with disabilities. It’s for everyone. But he made sure every single experience and ride is what he calls “ultra accessible.”
“That’s the beauty of this place is that it’s an opportunity for everyone to truly enjoy playing together. But also, no matter what their condition may be, that’s not a question anymore,” Hartman said.
The park, opened in 2010, is believed to be the only one like it in the world and it has expanded to a sports center and camp with an outdoor adventure park.
Across all the recreation areas that bear her name, there’s a Ferris wheel, zip lining and even a water park – all fully accessible.
And for people who can’t get their electric wheelchairs wet, Hartman and his team have a solution. “We have a wheelchair valet,” said Hartman. “You go from your wheelchair to a wheelchair that has been specially built to the size that you need and if you’re in a battery-operated wheelchair, we actually give you a nomadic wheelchair, which works off compressed air. It works underwater.”
Hartman has seen firsthand how an accessible theme park can change lives through joy. “I met a couple from Mexico City. And they had never had a chance to, because of their special needs, ever a chance to play in water together. They heard about it, they came here. They cried with me and talked to me about how this was the most wonderful opportunity they ever had,” he said.
Morgan’s favorite ride? The train, which loops the theme park. She also likes the swing, and during CBS News’ recent visit, took her dad to play on the swing set. She also drew attention from visitors, there on a school field trip, who wanted to meet the Morgan behind the “wonderland.”
Morgan’s Wonderland has welcomed visitors from dozens of countries and all 50 states — and those with disabilities enter for free.
“It’s the small things that make the big difference: Having fun,” Hartman said. “And for too long, I think, individuals had to watch and say, ‘I wish I could.’ Here at Morgan’s Wonderland and all the different Morgan’s venues, you don’t watch. You participate.”
In 2022, at nearly 29 years old, Morgan finally received a diagnosis: Tatton-Brown-Rahman syndrome, a rare genetic disease, answering a lifelong question. And that same happy spirit, still there – and shared with millions of other people, who visit the theme park she inspired.