Father builds $35m theme park for daughter with special needs—it's free for people with disabilities

While on a family vacation, Gordon Hartman was devastated to see his 12-year-old daughter struggling to make friends at the pool. His autistic daughter Morgan was born with cognitive and physical disabilities. He began looking for a welcoming public space that would be enjoyable for everyone. When he couldn't find one, he made the decision to construct one himself. He created Morgan's Wonderland, a very accessible amusement park in San Antonio, Texas, in this manner. It's a location where everyone may congregate for enjoyment and a deeper understanding of one another, including those with and without impairments.

No matter how severe their special needs may be, it is a park for all of the individuals, not just 90 or 80 percent of them, according to Hartman, who spoke to PEOPLE. That is what I dreamed, she said. Additionally, according to Hartman, admission is unrestrictedly free for anybody with a handicap.

Hartman aimed to establish an environment devoid of prejudice against kids. It's about making sure that no one feels different. We attempted to do that with this park, he remarked. The park debuted in 2010 and became the first theme park in the world created with the delight of all guests in mind. The more than 25 components of the wheelchair-accessible park include rides, playgrounds, and other vibrant attractions. At the age of 15, Hartman began working as a landscaper before going on to become a successful home builder. At the age of 19, he created his own homebuilding firm, and at the age of 23, he founded a property development company. His business was San Antonio's biggest locally owned homebuilding and land development corporation.

In order for Hartman and his wife, Maggie, to support children and people with disabilities, they sold their businesses in 2005 and founded the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation. This decision was motivated by Hartman's love for Morgan. He constructed the theme park in a way that integrates and breaks down the barriers between individuals with and without impairments. Accessibility, in his opinion, is the key to both acceptance and comradery among kids. To develop the $35 million park, he worked with architects, engineers, medical professionals, and therapists. A completely accessible railway, a playground, and a Ferris wheel are just a few of the many attractions. Additionally, the park offers unique wristbands that can trace guests' whereabouts, which is helpful for those with autism.

One-third of the personnel at the park are individuals with special needs, demonstrating the park's inclusive recruiting practices. Morgan's Inspiration Island, a $17 million completely accessible water park that he also founded, offers free waterproof wheelchairs, free waterproof bags for ventilators, and free O2 water-collar coverings for those who need to protect tracheas. In 2018, Time Magazine included Morgan's Inspiration Island on their list of the World's Greatest Places.

Many sobbing parents have thanked Hartman for establishing a setting that is accessible for those with impairments. He remembered the moment when a tearful father had grabbed his hand and started sobbing. He stated he had never seen his child play and pointed to his older son who was splashing around in the water. Another couple commended them for letting their kid play in the park instead of just watching. He was assured by several individuals that this would be the chance for his daughter to finally have a location where she wouldn't have to watch from the sidelines and could actively participate in everything. He is motivated by the positive reactions of his customers. "Exactly, that's what this place is all about."
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