When Gordon Hartman watched his then-12-year-old daughter, Morgan, havetrouble making friends in a swimming pool during a family vacation, he washeartbroken.
The incident led Hartman to search for a public space where Morgan, who ison the autism spectrum and experiences a cognitive delay, could play withothers who knew how to interact with her. Hartman soon realized such a placedidn’t exist.
So, he made it himself.
Hartman is the founder of Morgan’s Wonderland, an ultra-accessible theme park in SanAntonio, Texas, where people with or without disabilities can play together.It’s a place of total inclusion — a park where there are no barriers fromkeeping anyone from playing with each other.
“It’s a park for 100 percent of the people, not one for 90 or 80 percent ofthem, it’s for everybody, no matter how acute their special need maybe,” Hartman tells PEOPLE. “That’s what my dream was.”
The 53-year-old father began his pursuit of helping those with disabilitieswhen he founded TheGordon Hartman Family Foundation after selling off his homebuildingbusiness in 2005. After the incident in the pool — which is still hard for himto speak about — Hartman realized that if other children had a betterunderstanding of people with disabilities, Morgan may have an easier timemaking friends. Hartman wanted to build a theme park that incorporated peoplewith and without special needs like no other place before it.
“It’s about not letting anyone feeldifferent,” Hartman explains. “That’s what we tried to do with this park.”
Hartman held dozens of meetings to raisemoney and collaborated with architects, engineers, doctors, and therapiststo design the $35 million park. Construction began in 2007 and was completedthree years later, and just this year, the nonprofit added a fully-accessible$17 million water park called Morgan’s Inspiration Island