When Gordon Hartman opened Morgan’s Wonderland in April 2010, it was the culmination of a dream he’d had for five years after seeing his daughter, Morgan, a girl with physical and cognitive disabilities, wanting to play with other vacationing kids at a hotel swimming pool – but the children were leery of her and didn’t want to interact with her.
At that moment, he resolved to create opportunities and places where people with and without disabilities can come together not only for fun, but also for a better understanding of one another.
So he and his wife Maggie built the first ultra-accessible theme park of its kind. Completely wheelchair-accessible, the destination in San Antonio, Texas, has hosted more than 1.3 million guests from the U.S. and 69 other countries since it opened. With more than 25 attractions, including rides, Wonderlands, gardens, an 8-acre catch-and-release fishing lake and an 18,000-square-foot special-event center, it’s long been established as fun and understanding for everyone.
Now it’s going to give its visitors a new technology experience.
From day one, Morgan’s Wonderland has focused on inclusion and ultra-accessible play for people with and without disabilities, says Hartman. But technology has been a game-changer for his family.
“My daughter, Morgan, who has both physical and cognitive disabilities, but computer technology has made it possible for her to become more engaged, to become more inquisitive and to understand more of the world around her,” says Hartman.
To help the park’s visitors experience that same type of engagement, Microsoft Store is revamping the Sensory Village at Morgan’s Wonderland. The new Microsoft Experience includes an interactive gaming area, featuring Xbox One X stations and the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which connects to external buttons, switches, mounts and joysticks to give gamers with limited mobility, an easy-to-set-up and readily available way to play Xbox One games.
Additionally, Surface devices will connect to the park’s interactive map, taking guests through the favorite attractions of the Wonder Squad, Morgan’s Wonderland’s super heroes.
Finally, a Wish Machine, powered by Surface Studio, will take submissions from visitors for the chance to have their holiday wish granted by Microsoft Store through Dec. 20.*
“We chose the experiences based on our mission of inclusion,” says Kara Rowe, worldwide director of Microsoft Store Visuals & Experience. “Understanding that mission was paramount in determining what we chose, such as what we experience today in our stores that resonates the most with our customers.”
Rowe says the company created a custom-made Xbox One X gameplay station with the Xbox Adaptive Controllers laid out to be easily accessible for wheelchairs. And in turn, they’ll use the feedback they get from the park’s guests to help create and refine even more accessible experiences in the future – for Microsoft Store and the company’s product groups.
“We were thoughtful about the different use case scenarios for any guest to make sure that the experiences are truly ultra-inclusive,” says Rowe, referring to a phrase Hartman coined from the early days at the park.
The cross-company collaboration, which started with Microsoft volunteers from the Microsoft San Antonio datacenter and Microsoft Store locations, also helped provide auditory and visual cues, such as braille, that would help visitors to the Sensory Village.
“Every person has jumped at the chance to be involved, sharing personal stories as to why it matters to them,” Rowe says.
Hartman credits Microsoft with adding technological vitality to the park.
“It utilizes technology that enables people with disabilities individuals to interact and have fun together in an environment designed to stimulate the senses,” he says.
Rowe says this is the first time a Microsoft Experience has been in a theme park.
“This is about understanding how to teach and help a community learn with technology available to them in an inclusive way,” Rowe says. “Opening up in this space is really special. It is magical for us to have local employees volunteering because our company inspires us to do these activities, to activate cross channels, to come together and align to this greater mission of empowerment.”
Microsoft has committed to maintain and evaluate the space to ensure refreshed experiences.
“Sensory Village is built on technology, and Microsoft is a technological giant,” Hartman says. “We believe Microsoft’s leadership in technology can translate into tremendous benefits for the disability community.”
*The Wish Machine experience celebrates the excitement of the holiday season and the power of a wish. Wish Machine is powered by Surface Studio, where contestants record a video up to 60 seconds long of themselves making a holiday wish. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to guests of Morgan’s Wonderland who are at least 13 years old. Enter by December 20, 2018. For Official Rules, including prize descriptions, click here.) Void where prohibited.
*Editor’s note: Correction on spelling of Gordon Hartman’s first name.
Updated December 10, 2018 1:25 pm