Water parks are the definitive location for cooling off in hot-as-hell summer weather.
But the hot spots for fun in the sun are notoriously inaccessible to people with disabilities.
A new water park called Morgan’s Inspiration Island was designed for people with a wide range of disability identities and it's mind-blowingly accessible. The park, which opens June 17 in San Antonio, Texas, is fully wheelchair-accessible and hopes to welcome people with disabilities through careful consideration in design.
The tropical-themed park features six major attractions, including an accessible river boat ride and a wide variety of splash pads surfaces with geysers, water cannons, and rain curtains. Splash pads, unlike pools, are more accessible to people with mobility-related disabilities, but still provide the full water park experience.
And, notably, anyone with a disability is welcomed into the park for free.
"Our goal is to provide a great guest experience in an inclusive, safe, comfortable, not-overly-crowded environment," park founder Gordon Hartman says.
The park even worked with the University of Pittsburgh to develop a revolutionary new wheelchair called PneuChair that's propelled by compressed air instead of batteries, making them low-cost and waterproof. Guests can use the chairs for free so they don't damage the expensive, battery-powered wheelchairs many people who regularly use wheelchairs rely on.
The chairs are incredibly efficient, weighing about 80 pounds instead of hundreds of pounds like battery-operated chairs. The PneuChair takes just 10 minutes to "recharge" with air, compared to the eight hours it takes to charge an electric wheelchair and they run just as long.
Two other wheelchair types a model that's pushed by a caregiver and a traditional manual wheelchair are also available for guests to cater to their mobility needs.
The park provides high-tech, waterproof wristbands to children and people with disabilities who tend to wander, so parents can easily locate them with the help of staff if needed.
Another special feature of the park is the ability to quickly change water to warmer temperatures, so guests with sensitivities to cold can still enjoy attractions.
Private, quiet areas are also available for those who may get overwhelmed with crowds and noise, though park attendance is always limited to ensure a milder experience than most theme park settings. Tickets are available online to ensure families don't arrive and are unable to enter due to attendance restrictions.
The park was designed with water conservation in mind, too. The water is filtered continuously and then recirculated, which also helps those with immune sensitivities to feel confident about the water's quality.
Morgan's Inspiration Island calls itself the world's first accessible water park, and the amount of accessibility is undoubtedly unparalleled.
Though many water parks and theme parks in the U.S. have at least some accessible attractions to comply with federal law, it's relatively unheard of for a park to make accessibility universal. Public water parks, for example, are only required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to have accessible wading pools. Actual rides and attractions, however, often aren't accessible to people with mobility-related disabilities.
But imagine how boring it would be to go to a water park and only be able to wade in a pool. And that doesn't even include how the busy, loud, and stressful environment of traditional water parks excludes people with some cognitive disabilities.
The creators of Morgan's Inspiration Island strayed from the traditional water park model to create a space welcoming of all people with disabilities. Still, they resist the label of being a "special needs park." Rather, Morgan's Inspiration Island, according to the park's creators, is a "park of inclusion."
"Morgan's Inspiration Island will concentrate on inclusion, and inspire guests to do things previously thought not to be in their range of capabilities," he explained. "Those without disabilities and those with, including individuals in wheelchairs, guests with hearing and visual impairments, and even guests on ventilators, will be able to play alongside each other and gain a greater appreciation of one another."
Morgan's Inspiration Island is the sister park to Morgan’s Wonderland, a 25-acre, fully accessible theme park which opened in March 2010. Morgan's Inspiration Island and Morgan's Wonderland are located right next to each other, allowing for easy park-hopping.
"When Morgan’s Wonderland opened in 2010, we really didn't know what to expect," Hartman says. "But the park's popularity has grown tremendously, and encouraged us to add Morgan's Inspiration Island.
"Now, we'll have two attractions like none other that everyone regardless of ability or age can enjoy."
The expanse of accessible parks also includes The Academy at Morgan's Wonderland, a school for students with disabilities, and the Children's Rehabilitation Institute of TeletonUSA, a nonprofit rehab center for children living with neurological, muscular, or skeletal disorders and injuries.
Morgan's Inspiration Island was designed by Hartman and his 23-year-old daughter, Morgan, who lives with disability and is the namesake of the Morgan locations. To develop the facility, the duo worked with water park consultants, doctors, therapists, special education teachers, caregivers, and most importantly the disability rights community itself.
Prior to its official opening on June 17, Morgan's Inspiration Island invited small groups of people with disabilities to test all parts of the splash park, tweaking the park and its attractions with their feedback.
The water park will be open daily throughout the summer until mid-August, and then on weekends in August and September. Additional accessible Morgan facilities are currently under development to add to the fun.
Until those are announced, we'll all have to wait to see how the innovative team shakes up accessibility next.