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June 2011



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Fun world: The ‘Taking Flight’ bronze sculpture at Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas, a 10ha theme park that caters to people with physical or mental disabilities.

Thursday June 2, 2011


Morgan’s Wonderland is a fun park designed for children and adults with special needs.

THE carousel has chariots for wheelchairs. Braille games decorate side panels on the jungle gym. And table-high sandboxes allow just about any kid to build a castle.

Morgan’s Wonderland in Texas aims to offer everything a special needs guest might enjoy at a theme park, while appealing to non-disabled visitors, too.

“If it wasn’t for searching Google,” founder Gordon Hartman said, “it would’ve taken me a lot longer to put this together.”

The result is both inventive and heartwarming: a 10ha, US$34mil (RM102mil) park catering every detail to people with physical or mental disabilities, down to jungle gyms wide enough to fit two wheelchairs side-by-side, a “Sensory Village” that’s an indoor mall of touch-and-hear activities, and daily attendance limits so the park never gets too loud or lines too long.

Since opening last year, Morgan’s Wonderland has attracted more than 100,000 guests, despite almost no national marketing by the non-profit park. Admission for people with special needs is free, and adults accompanying them pay US$10 (RM30). Three out of every four visitors do not have disabilities.

The park is the first of its kind in America, according to Hartman, a San Antonio philanthropist who named the place after his 17-year-old daughter, who can’t perform simple maths and struggles to form sentences because of cognitive disabilities. A map in the lobby entrance, where adults with special needs volunteer as greeters, offers a more visual way to gauge the park’s early popularity. The 49 US states and 16 countries which visitors have come from are marked in purple.

Persons with autism, orthopaedic impairments, mental disabilities or seizure disorders are among the most regular visitors. Tifani Jackson’s 11-year-old son, Jaylin, has Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes learning disabilities and developmental delays.

Jaylin was showing off his new hat from the gift shop, before coaxing his mum towards the off-road adventure ride, where rugged-looking jeeps that are wheelchair accessible twist and turn through a short track.

“It’s so nice to have a place like this,” said Jackson, who lives in nearby Austin.

Built on the site of an abandoned quarry, Morgan’s Wonderland is one-tenth the size of SeaWorld, the destination mega-attraction on the other side of San Antonio.

Morgan’s Wonderland is deliberately designed so that visitors do not have to go through an exhausting trudge from one overcrowded ride to the next.

Generously spread out, the park has about 20 attractions from active (Butterfly Playground) to easy-going (a train circling a 1.6km-long loop through the park and around a lake). Even more tranquil is the Sitting Garden, a quiet and almost meditative enclave that’s a favourite among parents with autistic children.

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