Thursday, March 11, 2010

Morgan's Wonderland: why it's such a big deal



There's been a lot of buzz on the web about San Antonio's Morgan's Wonderland, the first large theme park to cater to kids with special needs. Dave e-mailed me about it from London. He's there on a business trip and had seen it on the news.

The story's amazing: A real estate developer with a daughter who has special needs raised some $30 million to open the park. It has wide ramps for wheelchairs, a carousel with adaptive seating, and a sensory village where kids can interact with lights, colors, sounds and textures. It's even going to limit the number of visitors so as not to overwhelm kids. Admission is free for those with disabilities and $5 for friends and family. The Grand Opening is April 10.

I was psyched to hear about Morgan's Wonderland, but all the hoopla has left me vaguely troubled. Because if adapting places to kids with special needs were more of a regular thing, a park like this wouldn't be making international headlines. Morgan's Wonderland is a big deal not just because its the first of its kind but because this concept seems so novel to people. Wow! Lots and lots of opportunities for kids with special needs to enjoy themselves, as opposed to the slim pickings available at mainstream parks.

The topic's totally on my mind. We're headed to Disney at the end of next week, a place that is considered exceptionally accommodating to kids with special needs. Last time we went, though, we were limited by the number of rides we could go on because they scared the hell out of Max. Make that, we were limited to the race track. Everything else was sensory overload. I made the mistake of dragging him onto It's A Small World since I thought he'd get into it only he wailed the entire time as the robo-children in adorable outfits sang their hearts out. Max will probably run screaming down the Disney streets at the mere sight of it.

Morgan's Wonderland deserves all of the attention it's receiving. I just wish that the Chuck E. Cheeses and Great Adventures and water parks and all the other mainstream kiddie fun places of this world did more to include kids with disabilities, you know?

28 comments:

  1. nice post ellen I hope once it is open disney will contact them to make a partnership

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  2. This sounds awesome! I can't wait to tell my friends about it. I guess San Antonio will now be a tourist destination for something other than the Alamo?

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  3. I also wish for playgrounds adapted to children with special needs. Being wheelchair bound, and now at a weight when I cannot lift her onto my lap for a shared swing, the only thing that she can be a participant in is a wheelchair swing. And for this I need a special access key from my shire; if I am out of my local area I cannot access other wheelchair swings. I would like a playground as described - with wide, wheelchair friendly paths, - not just flat ones, either - as my little girl loves the sensation of speed! I would like tunnels to walk through, sensory spaces, etc. She loves to lay on the trampoline at home, or be taken into the spa, but so many things are unavailable to her. One of her favourite places is the beach - it is a struggle to get her onto the sand, and then to get her up into her chair, which is then wet and sandy. Have you ever tried to shower and change a child where there are no child-friendly/disability friendly facilities. I would love to take her more often, but the logistics are such that I am exhausted from a beach expedition. Hopefully this idea will be replicated in Australia soon.

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  4. Yeah, we can't even contemplate Disney. Too much going on, too much noise, too many life-size characters that he knows of as small, too much everthing.

    The things that resonate most with me are the limiting of visitor numbers and the GPS bracelets. Imagine- going to a large park and knowing that if your kid runs or wanders away, it's OK- you'll find them! And cars that don't hit each other...

    Thanks for the info.

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  5. Special needs kids are not the only ones who get overwhelmed at Disney! We skipped the Magic Kingdom last time because Jacob just couldn't handle it, and instead spent more time at Animal Kingdom. Hell, Disney is a lot for ME to handle!

    I love this guy in San Antonio. I think the coolest part is that special needs kids get in free. I think the hype isn't because it is novel, it is more of a "Its about time" someone did this. There are loads of kids who cannot do Disney. Loads.

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  6. Great news, yet concerning too, for the very reasons you explained. If more places could adapt the existing facilities and allow our children to integrate that would be preferable. Maybe this will be the beginning of a new era for our families, heres hoping. Jen.

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  7. AWESOME, Ellen! Sure would like to visit it...

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  8. Somebody had to be first, to show the way. Sea World is also in SA, Texas. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would be interested in a parent review of a Sea World experience.

    Hoping to read that you see Max has had some maturation since your last Disney trip - by him enjoying a broader range of activities.

    Entertainment parks are a wonderful typical childhood experience for children who are sensory seeking. For children who are sensory avoidant, the options are more limited.

    Barbara

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  9. Hi Ellen!

    I live in San Antonio. It's funny--I knew about the park, but I hadn't noticed tons of hoopla about it. I'm glad that the news is reaching people. And, yes, there should be more places like that.

    San Antonio is a great place to visit, and to live. Besides the Alamo, there's the beautiful riverwalk, which is pretty accessible now. There are old missions, a beautiful botanical garden and Seaworld. If you ever make it down here, there's lots to do!

    Laura

    Laura

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  10. I don't have any kids with disabilities of any sort, but I think this is absolutly amazing and wonderful! I am pretty sure we will be seeing more and more open up over the years!

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  11. Disney is a NIGHTMARE for special needs. As accommodating as the park attempts to be...it's the guests. A place like Morgan's is going to be groundbreaking...parent's don't have to apologize for making people move to get a wheelchair through a crowd. You'll never hear rude people say "The Sign Says No Strollers" if you're using your stroller as a wheelchair. The kids will all be on the same playing field. And there will be support. Parents loving on other parents.

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  13. I know, the forgotten group, for sure.

    I hadn't even heard of this, thank you!

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  14. I am excited to see this place! Max absolutely could not do Disney...just way too much going on! But he does like to have fun...and the carousel that he could sit in and actually ride on one of the horses!?

    When the mom started talking about her child hoping for a swing he could ride on with his wheelchair, started crying, I shared her tears. It's just the simple things our kids so often don't get to experience that is that constant reminder that we have to adapt for them with almost everything.

    It will be nice to go somewhere that we don't have to adapt. We can just enjoy our time as a family!

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  15. I thought this was a great story, too.

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  16. I'd love to take Max (and Sabrina!) to this park, too. Heroba, we're doing Disney World and TOTALLY open to suggestion! That is kind of you to offer.

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  17. Hi Ellen – One of the most helpful things to do when planning a Disney World trip is to go to WDWmagic.com. They have a wonderful forum and love answering questions. One of the forum members has a son that has autism, and they’ve chronicled their experiences through a number of posts: http://forums.wdwmagic.com/showthread.php?t=532130&highlight=swsa
    Also, you should look into a Guest Assistance Card: If you present a note from Max’s doctor to Guest Services, they should give you a Guest Assistance Card. This will generally allow you to not wait in the general line. It is good for Max + 5 people. You might be in a separate area with less crowds or be able to use special exits/entrances.

    Try these two websites also: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plain-text/
    http://www.diz-abled.com/

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  18. I'm so excited about this place and the publicity it's recieving! Hopefully this will enlighten many people in all different aspects of business and life.

    We had a nice time at Disney, although it too was a little overwhelming. LilB actually likes It's a small world, lol. He hate the Finding Nemo ride. It was nice that Disney allowed us the front of the line pass because so many people in one place would have freaked him out.

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  19. I did hear good stuff about Disney Cruises and how they have someone that can stay with your child with special needs so you can do adult stuff like dancing and such. I'm just not sure how any of us would be on a cruise, lol. it sounds like lots of fun though!

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  20. I think this is in the news because it never occurred to the rest of the world just how inaccessible places like amusement parks, water parks, and the park down the street are for individuals with disabilities. Ignorance is major when it comes to issues of access. I am so thankful that someone is breaking the path and marking the trail for inclusive adventures and fun. I can admit that even though I am a special education teacher, there were a lot of little things in terms of accessibility that never occurred to me until I found myself relying upon a wheelchair. Until more people "get it" it will continue to be news, and a process of education.

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  21. This is so neat. I am going to tell my friends about it. Thank you so much!

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  22. We had a nice time at Disney and Charlie didn't care for Small World at all--it made him sleepy!

    Maybe Max would prefer some of the "rides" that are more like movies on a boat? There were a couple of those.

    This park sounds really neat. . . San Antonio isn't far away at all. . . I may have to go some day.

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  23. Sarah H is so right. After years of doing the theme parks I can say MANY kids and adults are overwelmed and EXHAUSTED. At least parents of special needs kids might be thinking ahead and can say too much. I've seen so many parents forcing kids to have fun! Sometimes its scary.

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  24. Ellen,
    I work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in San Antonio and I had the great pleasure of touring Morgan's Wonderland yesterday with Gordon Hartman, the founder. It's amazing! It's small in comparison to other theme parks, but the design and technology completely blew me away. From the wrist bands that help you locate family members, to the specially designed jeeps that wheelchairs can go into for an actual driving ride, there are things there I had never even heard of. They even have a garden in the center, in case anyone just needs a quiet minute to sit and relax.
    We see lots of special needs kids at Make-A-Wish, and this is thrilling for us, but I'd encourage anyone who's interested to come to San Antonio and check it out. It's awesome!

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  25. Came back to remind everyone that Morgan's Wonderland is now open!

    And, I posted about my first visit there: http://www.therextras.com/therextras/2010/04/morgans-wonderland.html

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  26. I have had the opportunity to visit Morgan's Wonderland for two days with my daughter. It was WONDERFUL! It is the first place that we have taken her that she could do everything. We didn't have to say, "honey, you can't do that." While we were there, I kept thinking of her "special friends" of varying needs. They have truly thought of every child and every disability. Mu husband blogged about our trip here - http://ronniespoon.blogspot.com/2010/06/wonderful-place-for-those-who-are.html

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  27. There's certainly a lot a lot more details to take into consideration, but thanks for sharing this post.

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Thanks for sharing!



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