Archive for August, 2011

Accessibility: What makes Morgan’s Wonderland Special?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Morgan’s Wonderland is being heralded as a place for children of all abilities. It is, but in which ways?

This place was designed with even, level pathways and ramps first. Steps are included, but only occasionally, and then mostly for skill development rather than access from the ground up to another level. For example, a person who can’t walk without assistance may be able to hold onto the railing on a playground and use the steps for strength training. The major route, however, is a ramp with railings to allow for baby strollers, wheelchairs, assisted movement such as walkers, etc. The whole area is pretty flat to begin with; they’ve added some elevation to the paths to give them some variety. It doesn’t appear that the paths provide any challenges, however.

Swings are designed for a range of abilities. There is a large swinging area (maybe they should make a sign, “For Swingers Only!”) that has specialized swings to support individual’s backs, wheelchairs, as well as the small rubber swings for toddlers. By late morning, children of all abilities were out there, swinging in the shade made by brightly-colored shade structures that covered all the play equipment areas.

The carousel, conveniently located next to the Entrance Building, is set at the same level as the sidewalks. People enter the carousel either by stepping over the narrow gap between the sidewalk and the carousel or by rolling over a textured, galvanized steel- plate “bridge”. Once on board the carousel, riders can select their seat – there are traditional types of seats on animals or in gondola-like rides which also include special seating and locking devices for wheelchairs.

The Off Road Adventure Ride includes a series of cars that move on a track. The driver can, by turning the wheel (as did the youngster who drove our vehicle), wiggle around the course. Specialized cars have a back seat area that is large enough to support a cut out for a wheelchair, with locking devices. In order to provide access to the car, there is a wheelchair ramp that goes up to a platform which can be swung over to the back seat of the car. The swinging platform and the floor of the back seat are at the same level, providing smooth access. A group that got on before I did consisted of middle-aged brothers with their elderly father (who moved with the aid of a walker). They were all smiles when their car returned to the docking station!

The playgrounds provide ramp access for all. As mentioned in the beginning, there are “challenge” areas, such as steps or island-like pods that you can jump from one to the other. There are also a range of sensory see-saws or rockers: some are made for two people (traditional type), while others can be rocked by hand. Yet another is a huge rocking platform with two couch-like seats on opposite ends. Groups or individuals can sit on the couches and rock – either gently or more rigorously – and the momentum creates the effect of a glider chair.

There are sand and water table areas for sensory exploration and just plain old fun. (9877) The sand area consists of four sand pits with a central sand table, accessible from the sidewalk. One can wheel the wheelchair so your legs are under the sand table. This is not the case, however, with the water tables, where you can only gain side motion access because the motors that power the water tables take up all the room under the water tables. If the overhanging area for the water were made longer so that the wheelchairs could also be placed under it, like the sand table, the people in the wheelchairs would be able to put both of their hands in the water and move objects about more naturally. (Thanks to Ingrid Kanics for pointing this out). I will also note that if there were access to water in the sand area, children could wet the sand, making it more moldable. It’s one thing to be able to move sand about and feel it in your hands. It’s quite another to construct something with the sand – construction play involves both imagination and process.

Then there is the train. The platform along the train’s edge at the “station” provides access onto the train. And, then you can gain access all over Morgan’s Wonderland. It’s a great ride, brings back memories of childhood (ok, I was on a ride like this not too long ago…). Well, at the very least, it is cool and brings a smile to your face!
At the end of the day, the fact that just about everything is within easy reach for everybody is a relief for most of the people visiting Morgan’s Wonderland. Now, if we can get all of our public places to be like this, what a wonderful place the world would be!

Accent on Security

Friday, August 5th, 2011

One of the features that stood out for me at Morgan’s Wonderland was their security program. As I purchased my ticket in the air conditioned ticket “center” (more on this another day – it’s worthy of mentioning!), the ticket taker presented me with a wristband to wear during my visit.

All visitors, I was told when I asked about this, receive such a wristband. It has a chip in it that helps to locate certain features on the site – especially if you can’t read, have trouble figuring out maps, and still want to find places such as restrooms, food and drink, etc. There are kiosks (such as in the photograph) provided throughout Morgan’s Wonderland where you can scan your wristband and find these facilities. This wayfinding tool is pretty neat. I confess that I didn’t notice the kiosks in the park, except the one next to the entrance, so didn’t think about using it instead of the map that I collected upon entering (but I’m old fashioned). However, if you don’t read English, or have difficulty with maps, this tool can be really helpful.

More importantly, this system helps to locate individuals who may get separated from the rest of their party. When a group of people want to come and visit Morgan’s Wonderland, they are requested to register in advance. The staff at the playland produces a number of wristbands with the same chip properties for that group. In the event that someone gets lost, a group member can go to the kiosk and scan their personal wristband. This will activate ALL the group members’ wristbands so that they appear on the map, showing their individual locations simultaneously. Presumably, all members of the group who are not lost would be located in proximity to one another. The person who has become separated from the group should also show up on the kiosk map, enabling the group to find that individual.

As I have been writing this, it reminded me of the many times my young son would run away when we ventured into public space. He was between two and five years old when he would run away. His speech wasn’t well developed, and he wouldn’t speak to strangers. He didn’t do this all the time – which meant we never quite expected this to occur. He’d walk with me in a store, holding my hand; next minute, he was scampering off, hiding behind the legs of a store clerk. Early on, he figured out how to get out of the stroller harness and proceeded to run through the sprinklers at the local botanic garden. Or, once, he was sitting next to me on the coping wall of a small pond at a garden center. I was talking to one of the assistants about the pond plants at the time when my son suddenly stood up and jumped into the pond. Fortunately, the garden assistant was instantly able to grab him and pull him out of the pond! My husband reminded me of the time they were standing by a friends’ pond when our son just jumped in without any warning. Another time, we were sitting at a picnic table at a local farm where they made and sold ice cream. Matthew was eating his ice cream cone one minute. The next minute, he was bolting through the busy parking lot 50 yards away! (We now think he should be on the track team). We noticed, at the time, that he didn’t respond when we called for him to stop. It was as if he couldn’t hear or process the sounds. Fortunately, he (and we) survived his early childhood bouts with running away!

Our son is not the only one who does this! The aspect of running away has been written about in the literature regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Just this week, a young child (diagnosed with ASD) drowned in a puddle after a rainstorm in the Philadelphia region after the parents reported him missing from the house. Our local Autism Listserve keeps us abreast of articles regarding findings, events, and everything-autism. Here’s good information on wandering:
http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/03/24/dangerous-wandering-a-lesser-known-side-of-autism

The National Autism Association has a safety toolkit on autism and wandering: http://www.nationalautismassociation.org/safetytoolkit.php

Morgan’s Wonderland has taken steps to not only make a place fun and accessible to be in, but also helps to reassure caregivers that their children/charges will be safe from getting lost because of wandering. I was not present when large groups came into the park, so I don’t know if the caregivers/chaperones were made aware of how to use the kiosk system to activate the wristband information. This may be an important consideration for play environments regarding children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental delays; quite possibly, it may be important for toddlers’ environments as well.

Morgan’s Wonderland — Background info

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

“The inspiration for Morgan’s Wonderland originated in 2006 when philanthropist Gordon Hartman observed a poignant occurrence involving his daughter Morgan, a child with special needs, and a group of other children. All were on vacation splashing in a hotel swimming pool. Morgan appeared as if she wanted to take part in the fun, and the others exhibited similar interest in interacting with Morgan. Unfortunately, the connection never materialized.

Hartman thought then and there how wonderful it would be to create a special place for special friends. It would be an environment for inclusion and understanding. It would be an oasis for those needing a safe place to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Hartman quickly learned that millions of children and adults with cognitive and physical challenges generally do not have access to facilities specifically established to assist them in enjoying outdoor activities.

Thus, Morgan’s Wonderland began with a desire to re-image the possibilities of what an inclusive park could be, if everyone were free to soar beyond their perceived limitations. This colorful and ultra-accessible 25-acre park serves as a haven not only for those with special needs but also for their families, friends and the entire community.” (accessed from the Morgan’s Wonderland website: http://www.MorgansWonderland.com)

For those of you out there who are curious how this project was financed, there is an interesting description of that on the site as well: Hartman developed a large athletic complex that, through the funds brought in for the activities in this venue, provided initial monies for the purchase of land and other features for Morgan’s Wonderland.

Friends who keep abreast of the latest news in accessibility and children’s environments told me about Morgan’s Wonderland when it opened to the public. It wasn’t until I was scheduled to visit San Antonio for the National Trampoline Competition in July and I was searching for places to visit there that I reconnected with Morgan’s Wonderland.

In the next few days, I’ll go over some of my observations of this unique children’s environment. If you have visited this place (or other places) and would like to add your comments, that would be so neat!!

Tomorrow: Accent on Security (no, not National types).

Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Last month (July), when I was attending the National Trampoline Competition in this lovely city (San Antonio), I also got to visit Morgan’s Wonderland. This is a play environment for children of all abilities and ages (0 – 100+). It has a number of playgrounds, including water tables, sand areas, swings, slides and other play equipment, a carousel, train, off-road vehicles, fishing, model boats and more! Here is the link to my Facebook Page to connect you with a variety of photos.

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.190475647682165.52281.100001591930917&l=e7cc6c94bc&type=1