Inclusive Design

Water wonderland

CLADbook’s Tom Anstey talks to the team behind Morgan’s Inspiration Island, a new waterpark designed for children with disabilities and special needs

Morgan’s Wonderland – an inclusive theme park that has catered to disabled guests since 2010 – launched a new accessible waterpark recently.

Founder and owner Gordon Hartman says his daughter, Morgan, who has cognitive delay and is now in her early 20s, has been the catalyst for all his projects. The $17m Morgan’s Inspiration Island is completely wheelchair accessible, offering a selection of waterpark activities, including raintrees, waterfalls, pools, geysers, water cannon and tipping buckets.

With five themed zones, a seven-storey lighthouse at the centre and spacious private areas available for guests, there’s also a five-minute riverboat ride that takes visitors through a jungle setting, complete with bird and animal sound effects.

Gordon Hartman,


Morgan’s Inspiration Island

Gordon Hartman
Gordon Hartman

Tell us about Inspiration Island.
About seven years ago, we opened Morgan’s Wonderland, which is the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park. It’s been incredibly successful, with people visiting from more than 66 countries and all 50 US states. People from all over the world come here to experience “ultimate inclusion”.

As Morgan’s Wonderland grew, people started asking about a waterpark. We brought a team together, similar to the team that developed the original park. That meant that we spoke to people in the community – people with special needs, people without, care givers, teachers, doctors, therapists – and pooled our ideas.

We worked with a grassroots approach towards understanding what was necessary in the waterpark, working directly with the people who were going to use it. We did a lot of testing with special needs individuals, testing wheelchairs, water strength and much more.

The reason we did that was in order to maximise everything in the development of Morgan’s Inspiration Island to make sure that it’s ultra-accessible. Whatever your special need may be – no matter how acute – you can be a part of this park.

What’s different about the waterpark?
Many aspects are specially designed. The water, for example, is warmed slightly to allow those with muscular issues to enjoy the park. Every element of the waterpark is wheelchair accessible, including the boat ride. Normally, guests would have to use a ramp up to the boat, but we did this without ramps. The seating area actually raises up in the boat itself.

What makes Morgan’s Wonderland and the new waterpark so special?
It’s really the whole culture of the park. People come here because, out of every four people who enter each day, three of them do not have special needs. Our attractions are not just designed for the special needs individual, but for everyone involved. We want family members and friends to also feel relaxed and be able to play.

Many parks are built for 85 or 90 per cent of the population, but our parks cater for 100 per cent of the population. Nobody comes to one of our parks and says, ‘I wish I could do that.’ You can do everything. It’s been thought out and designed that way.

What other adaptations have you made?
We have two areas with tipping buckets. Some of our guests don’t want to be dumped with water, some do. So, we created an alarm that warns people – a pleasing sound so as not to bother guests on the autistic spectrum – to let them know water is about to drop. For those with hearing difficulties, a whirling sign alerts them. When guests see or hear the alarm, they can back away from the water if they don’t want to be splashed.

Many waterpark elements have little wheels on them, which control the amount of water coming out of the waterplay features. If someone is fragile because they have physical issues, the intensity level can be lowered so they can enjoy it.

What technology did you use?
We use RFID technology. If a visitor gets separated from their group or wanders off, their waterproof RFID wristband relays their location back to their companions.

Many Morgan’s Wonderland guests come independently, in their own battery-operated wheelchairs. But what if someone comes to the waterpark and they want to stay independent? They wouldn’t be able to, because battery-operated wheelchairs can’t get wet. So, we worked with the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to create a wheelchair that runs on compressed air. It takes no batteries. It’s lighter and easier to move around in, so guests can get around, get wet and be independent.

We designed chairs with fabrics that can get wet. A guest with a muscular disability can transfer into a waterproof chair via the hoist in the special changing room.

What has the reaction been?
There has been global interest in the new attraction and we’re proud of that. We live in a world of exclusion rather than inclusion, but we hope talking more about inclusion will help change that conversation.

"We live in a world of exclusion rather than inclusion, but we hope talking more about inclusion will help change that conversation."

The target audience was involved throughout 
the planning stages
The target audience was involved throughout the planning stages

Jeff Kelso,

Senior project manager,

WhiteWater West

Jeff Kelso
Jeff Kelso

Tell us about Inspiration Island. What was the starting point?
I walked the existing Morgan’s Wonderland park to learn about guest needs from a customer point of view. I reviewed the rides, talked to the ride operators and maintenance team, talked to some parents in the park and even saw Morgan playing with some guests that day.

Knowing customer needs made it easy to go back to the WhiteWater project engineering team and communicate the clear direction we needed to go in.

What challenges did you face?
The project team had to ensure that any guest with any special need could load and unload safely and efficiently on the rides. The term coined and widely used by the Morgan’s team was ‘ultra-accessible’.

We also made sure that the final designs would not make a guest feel different or special or unique. We wanted every guest, with or without disabilities, to enjoy the ride experience in the same way. Inspiration Island had to be all-inclusive.

Are there any next steps?
You might say that this is a limited release product design, but the trend going forward could see WhiteWater West adapting our other water rides and products to be ultra-accessible as well.

Now that Morgan’s Inspiration Island is up and running, I’m certain others in our industry will look for ways to make their rides ultra-accessible as well. I think that’s a great reason to follow a trend. After all, we are in this industry to create fun experiences for all to enjoy.

"We made sure the final designs would not make a guest feel different or special or unique. Inspiration Island had to be all-inclusive"

The waterpark offers a specially designed wheelchair that runs on compressed air and can get wet
The waterpark offers a specially designed wheelchair that runs on compressed air and can get wet

Josh Martin,

President and creative director,

Aquatic Design and Engineering

Josh Martin
Josh Martin

What was your role in the project?
We provide professional consultancy services, specifically tailored to water and water interaction. For Morgan’s Inspiration Island, we were contracted to deliver the mechanical filtration structural system designs for the project. Our job was to provide the systems to service the play equipment supplied by WhiteWater West.

We had to make sure the water quality was beyond reproach. The park invested heavily in state-of-the-art chemical filtration equipment and heaters so they could guarantee they’d have successful play and no concerns over water quality.

Did your approach to the project change from the way you work normally?
One thing that was especially critical was making sure that these systems were built in a way that if something did go down for service, we could still operate as normal. Understanding that a guest’s visit may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, we took the idea of guest satisfaction very seriously. We did everything in our power to have backup or redundant systems that can easily be swapped out to be sure they are safe.

What kinds of technology did you use?
The brains of our system is a chemical controller that enables remote monitoring of the water, allowing us to see temperature, chlorine and PH levels and automatically adjust all of those. One goal was to run minimum levels of chlorine because we knew how sensitive the kids could be to the smell or to chlorine on their skin. With the heated system, it was designing a system that would bring heated water to a very exact level. I’ve never seen a project so specific on what we needed to achieve.

Are you pleased with the results?
Letting kids be kids, regardless of what’s happening in their lives, is something that makes us happy. To see the smiles on their faces and to know there’s a place like this that exists, is something that will always be a feather in our cap as a design firm.

"Understanding that a guest’s visit may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, we took the idea of guest satisfaction very seriously"

Kids can control the intensity on the interactives
Kids can control the intensity on the interactives
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