It all started with a swimming pool.
Gordon Hartman was watching as his daughter Morgan, then 12 years old, attempted to make friends with some kids in a pool. But they soon left — and Hartman thinks it was because the kids didn’t know how to interact with Morgan, who has the cognitive understanding of a five-year-old and a form of autism, according to BBC News.
Hartman still remembers her reaction.
“The way she looked at me, that look of, ‘Dad I don’t understand’… she couldn’t tell me,” Hartman told CBS News. “She told me with her eyes and that stuck with me.”
Because of that experience, Hartman and his wife Maggie soon realized that there was no public place where they could take their daughter where others would know how to interact with her.
So he sold his homebuilding business in 2005 and made one.
Hartman — who started The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to aid people with disabilities — began construction on the park in 2007.
Located in San Antonio, Morgan’s Wonderland cost $34 million to create and includes a fully-accessible ferris wheel, miniature train and adventure playground. Since the park opened in 2010, it has been visited by over a million people from 67 countries.
One-third of the staff have disabilities, and it is free admission is for anyone with a physical or mental disability.
“We open every year knowing we’re going to lose over $1million, and we need to recover that through fundraising and partners,” he said.
And this year, Hartman opened a fully-accessible water park named Morgan’s Inspiration Island, which cost $17 million. It includes splash pads, a river ride that those with wheelchairs can access and a waterproof wheelchair, according to CBS News.
Hartman has already seen an improvement in his daughter, who now gets on rides she once shied away from.
“First she would stand near (the carousel), then she’d get on an animal but we wouldn’t start it. It was a slow process but now she loves going on it,” he told BBC. “Overcoming something she was scared of meant a lot to her. Little things achieved in play can make a big difference.”