Morgan's Wonderland, First Large Theme Park for Those With Special Needs, Opens Saturday

PHOTO Morgans Wonderland is the first large theme park created for people with special needsABC News
Morgan's Wonderland is the first large theme park created for people with special needs.

Saturday marks the grand opening of the first large theme park dedicated to people with special needs, and it's the realization of one father's vision for his own daughter.

Morgan's Wonderland, a 25-acre oasis of fun for children and adults with special needs in San Antonio, Texas, grew out of an incident Gordon Hartman witnessed.

His 16-year-old daughter Morgan – for whom the park is named – has a severe cognitive delay. One day some years ago, he observed her watching other children who were playing in a pool. He knew she wanted to join them, but because of the girl's inability to communicate properly, she couldn't.

For the former real estate developer, it was a defining moment, inspiring him to create a place where the words 'couldn't', 'shouldn't' and 'can't' weren't part of the vocabulary.

He took $1 million of his own money, raised an additional $29 million, and built the theme park.

"I think (Morgan) was the true reason we worked so hard with so many people over the last three years to make this a reality," he told "Good Morning America." "The blessing that Morgan has brought is beyond anything that I ever could have imagined and could explain."

Park is High-Tech, Fully Accessible

The park's 25 attractions are tailored to suit a wide range of cognitive and physical needs.

For the curious, there's the Sensory Village with its abundance of light, touch and sound. The carousel can lift wheelchairs up and down, and off-road vehicles are fully accessible to wheelchair-users.

There's a music garden, water play area, pirate's island, an amphitheater and the Wonderland Express -- a locomotive that runs through landscapes reminiscent of exotic, faraway lands.

The park also offers guests special bracelets with microchips so they can keep track of children who may wander off. The radio frequency technology enables users to check on children from screens located all across the park.

Park Environment Enables the Disabled, Parent Says

Because big numbers can be overwhelming for many people with special needs, the park keeps careful control of the crowd size.

What's more, for people with special needs, the park is all free. Family members or caregivers get in for $5. The park has already been open to visitors, and they think it's great.

Debbie West's 11-year-old son, Ashton, has cerebral palsy and ditaxia. He struggles every day because of his condition, but on the day they visited the park, West watched her son enjoying a place where the accommodations were specially designed with him in mind.

"You know seeing (him) here without that limitation, it's just overwhelming," she said.

"I just admire anybody with disabilities who can just, they find their way, they make their way and do what they want to do, but they have to do it differently," she said. "You are only disabled in an environment that makes you that way. And you are not here."

For Gordon Hartman, that makes it all worthwhile.

"The best thing is when these kids come up to me and hug me and say 'thank you,' and they don't have to say thank you, you can see it in their eyes," he said. "That's a good feeling."

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