How one man built a $51m theme park for his disabled daughter
August 16, 2017 5:34 AM   Subscribe

A father from Texas realised there were no theme parks where his disabled daughter could play. So he decided to build one. "We wanted a theme park where everyone could do everything, where people with and without special needs could play," Gordon Hartman says.

Morgan Hartman, daughter of Gordon Hartman, has the cognitive understanding of a five year old as well a form of autism. Realising that traditional theme parks are mostly inhospitable or inaccessible to people with disabilities, Gordon Hartman searched for any theme park within the U.S. that his daughter could go and have fun.

"We realised such an inclusive place didn't exist," says Hartman.

So in 2007 he decided to build it himself. A former property developer, he sold his homebuilding businesses in 2005 to set up The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, a non-profit organisation that seeks to help people with disabilities. Then he set about creating the "world's first ultra-accessible theme park".

"We wanted a theme park where everyone could do everything, where people with and without special needs could play," Hartman says.

He brought together doctors, therapists, parents and other people with and without disabilities to consult on the facilities.

Wikipedia has a more extensive history on Morgan's Wonderland

There are some delightful pictures on the official website

The Park is sill growing, and in June of 2017 Morgan's Wonderland opened the worlds first ultra accessible splash park: Morgan's Inspiration Island which features an array of water themed rides and attractions.

posted by Faintdreams (21 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Thank goodness my officemate is on vacation, because this is making me cry at my desk.
posted by JanetLand at 5:42 AM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is fantastic.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 5:53 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's not nearly on that scale, but Austin-area parents of children with disabilities (or without) might want to check out the Play for All Abilities Park in Round Rock. Get there soon, too; I believe they're closing it in a few weeks for expansion construction and it won't be reopening until late fall.
posted by roystgnr at 6:38 AM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I read about this a few years ago. I'm so thrilled to see it's thriving and growing.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 6:39 AM on August 16, 2017

There's probably someone out there saying, "See? Someone saw a need and fulfilled it without the gubmint stepping in!" To which I would need to say, "go read about the fact that he raised money through creating a soccer franchise and sold the stadium he built to San Antonio."

Also, he made his money building affordable homes, so he did well by doing good.

And then he did what we wish people who did really well would actually do: used his money to build something wonderful. Then he got others to come in and help - Toyota gets some good advertising, PR and tax breaks for helping, but they're helping. Bringing in a rehab clinic and a school and helping them, making a place where people with special needs can get help and have fun?

This man is a mensch, and bless him.
posted by mephron at 6:54 AM on August 16, 2017 [32 favorites]

"He pointed to his son, who has acute special needs and started crying. He said he hadn't been able to play in water before."

Cue all the waterworks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:16 AM on August 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

I just got into work, and now I want to turn back around and go home and hug my children.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:45 AM on August 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

This man and his family did something wonderful. And it's bringing happiness and joy to a lot of different people.

I love this.
posted by Fizz at 7:47 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kinda the perfect counterpoint to this week. Thanks.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:07 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

We don't see near enough stories of wonderful people doing wonderful things any more. Thank you for this, it made my week.
posted by davelog at 8:16 AM on August 16, 2017

Omg, I have already sent this to a bunch of people whose families would love to take their kids -- disabled and regularly abled -- to this sort of place to play together.

There are more and more local playgrounds that are at least partially accessible, but vacations are hard, and this looks amazing!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:16 AM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Since it opened Morgan's Wonderland has received over a million visitors from 67 countries and from all 50 American states. A third of staff have disabilities and entrance is free to any guest with a condition.

"I realised Morgan was one of the lucky ones because she had many of the things she needed. I didn't want cost to be a barrier for others with special needs," Hartman says.

Thanks for this.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 8:18 AM on August 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

I cannot put into words how much I need a story like this today. Look for the helpers, indeed.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:25 AM on August 16, 2017 [8 favorites]

This is all kinds of wonderful.

Also a chance for me to beat the drum of accessible design benefits everyone. And when you're in a place that's designed for all abilities, you realize how much of disability is the result of bad design.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:43 AM on August 16, 2017 [20 favorites]

Surely this is an attractive nuisance.
posted by Segundus at 9:58 AM on August 16, 2017

Gordon Hartman, ladies and gentlemen: father of the fucking year!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:26 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh this is Samwise Gamgee levels of touching.
posted by French Fry at 10:56 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is amazing. I shared the information to our advisory council facebook page with a proper thanks and shout out to Metafilter.

TX is a little far for our families to travel, but northern New England schools do have more vacations during the school year and I know families who would consider making an entire trip just for this place.
posted by zizzle at 1:40 PM on August 16, 2017

Surely this is an attractive nuisance

It is a smoking hot nuisance.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:51 PM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm going to bookmark this so I can go back to it when things get too horrible. Like, after every 100 comments I read in a potus45 thread, I have to take a break and read this. Thank you for reminding me of the outstandingly good people out there.
posted by Ruki at 8:30 AM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm going to have to show this to my kids! The last time we went to a local amusement park, they were bummed that the Ferris wheel was gone. When we asked we were told that it was sent to a park in TX for kids with disabilities. And there, in the article is a picture of the Ferris Wheel- the kids will be thrilled!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:23 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

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