Supplement Feature - October 2019
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A Splashing Good Time

Inclusive & Multigenerational Splash Play

By Joseph Bush

This gives guests the opportunity to enjoy Morgan's Inspiration Island and not risk damage to their personal, battery-operated wheelchairs. According to a HERL press release, HERL, a joint effort between the university and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, happened to be at work on a prototype of the PneuChair when representatives from Sports Outdoor and Recreation (SOAR), a nonprofit organization established by The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation to oversee Morgan's Wonderland, called for help in developing powered mobility for the new splash park.

"Their needs and our research were essentially an ideal match," said HERL Director Rory Cooper. "The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, waterparks, beaches or pools is transformative."

"The PneuChair uses a simpler design without a lot of electronics and software," said Brandon Daveler, a Pitt graduate student researcher and the lead mechanical design engineer on the project. "If something goes wrong, any of the components can be purchased at your local hardware store."

The World Waterpark Association (WWA) gave its 2017 Leading Edge Award to Morgan's Inspiration Island for its unique design and revolutionary waterproof wheelchairs. USA Today readers voted Morgan's Inspiration Island best new water attraction of 2017 in the paper's "10 Best" competition. In September 2018, TIME Magazine named Morgan's Inspiration Island to its list of 100 World's Greatest Places, and San Antonio Magazine gave its 2019 Best of the City Award to Morgan's Inspiration Island for "Best Theme Park Concept." Both Morgan's Inspiration Island and Morgan's Wonderland received the 2018 Barrier-Free America Award presented by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

McCullough said the foundation is open to all organizations and operators that want to learn how inclusivity can be integrated into water recreation, but he acknowledges the hefty price tag can be a barrier.

"Their hearts are in the right place, but it does take a lot of money to build places like this and even more to run it," he said.

The Hartman Foundation did not use any government money, so those interested in adding inclusivity in recreational water areas could explore alternate funding and also can plan a smaller scale or a piecemeal approach. In addition to the special wheelchairs, Morgan's Inspiration Island offers accessories, like chest straps, foot blocks, laterals, dry bags and trach covers.

"In addition to providing our waterproof chairs, we offer seven different accessible changing rooms," said Jessica Lizzardo, general manager of the waterpark. "Two are equipped with Hoyer lifts for individuals needing assistance in transferring out of their chairs to our chairs. Also, out of our five accessible splash pads, one offers warmed water to keep guests with a sensitivity to cool or cold water comfortable."

Lizzardo said adding water to an accessible recreation area presented some new challenges: different sizes of waterproof wheelchairs, using the right materials that went into their manufacture, the temperature of water and the Texas sun.

The idea to build Morgan's Inspiration Island came directly from guest interactions and comments, she said.

"Many guests have a difficult time dealing with the heat, so water was a logical addition," said Lizzardo. "Besides, our water-table attraction at Morgan's Wonderland—WaterWorks—was not nearly big enough, nor was it sufficient to fully cool off guests. On hot days, we literally had guests climbing into WaterWorks like it was a tub."

The foundation decided that with so many guests with different abilities looking to cool off and have fun in the water, splash pads with no swimmable attractions were the best choice. This made finding adequate lifeguard staff a non-issue, said Lizzardo, and guests can still cool off and have interactive fun while being monitored by employees.

"We train our staff members to have friendly smiles and open hearts," she said. "Some of our management personnel are CPI-trained. However, most of our guests with special needs are accompanied by their loved ones or caretakers who know them best. We are truly blessed to work with an incredible employee team that shares a passion for our mission of inclusion." RM