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1st handicapped-accessible water park opens in Texas

Morgan's Island offers free admission for those with disabilities

SAN ANTONIO – An all-inclusive water park called Morgan’s Inspiration Island, which recently opened near Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, is the first of its kind in the world.

Kids with cognitive and physical disabilities have no obstacles at these parks, meaning people of all abilities can beat the heat, even if they don't like cold water.

“We have one of our five splash pads where we can heat water because some individuals, some guests, have a sensitivity to cold water,” Morgan's Inspiration Island communications director Bob McCullough said.

How could anyone enjoy warm water in July, you ask? Take someone like Junior.

“It calms him down. He likes it,” Junior’s mother said about him playing in the water. Junior has autism. “So it's a nice place, a nice environment, no stares, no one looking at you or judging you or wondering what's wrong with him, so I love it.”

At this water park, the crowds are small, judgment is reserved and “wheelchair accessible” does not even begin to describe it.

“We built (in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh) a pneumatic chair that's completely air based, so there's not anything electronic on this chair in particular, so it can go underwater. It can go out of the water and be completely fine,” Morgan’s Inspiration Island recreation therapy director Brooke Matula said.

At the "wheelchair valet," guests can exchange their electric chairs for one of the four pneumatic chairs. The park said they’re working to get more.

Tanks on the pneumatic chairs last two to three hours.

“We've had individuals that have actually gone under the buckets in the water park and just sit there and play in the water as much as they want and it does not hurt the chair at all,” Matula said.

The people working at the water park enjoy them too. The park said about 25 percent of its employees have disabilities and understand what guests need.

“If another company were to offer me a job somewhere, there is no way I would take it,” staff member Arnold Larion said. “I love what I do. I love interacting with the kids, the adults, just everybody in general. My reward is seeing them smile and have a good time.”

The founder of the park consulted with doctors, nurses, special education teachers, parents and caregivers to come up with everything a handicapped person could need. Those needs include affordability, so admission is free for people with disabilities.

Volunteers, such as Ryan Buchanan, 17, keep the cost down for the park. He's in town from Alabama and loving the labor.

“I like the fishing area. That's where I worked the first day, and then after a while I’ll be going to the gym and the water park, and I’m, like, cleaning tables,” Buchanan said. “There's a lot of kids that are my age that come and there are quite a few little ones. There's a lot of little ones that come here, but it's good to see all kinds of people that come here.”

All kinds of people, including Junior, Dillon and Jade, are happier when they feel included.

“Are you having fun in Morgan’s Wonderland?” Jade's father asked, kissing her in her wheelchair.

 

“I really think that we're meeting the objective of our mission, and that's inclusion,” McCullough said.

Morgan's Inspiration Island is a nonprofit organization. Click here to learn ways you can donate.