Today, I heard about the opening of the first theme park “dedicated to people with special needs”, specifically kids with developmental disabilities. Morgan’s Wonderland opened to the public recently in San Antonio, Texas. I must admit, I’m feeling a bit conflicted about it.
A part of me is thinking it’s rather cool. I can see the advantages. Some of them from their website:
- Limited numbers of people at the park to cater for the issues some people with developmental disabilities have in large crowds.
- Full accessibility of rides.
- Affordable cost – free to people with "special needs", $5 for caregivers.
The majority of people are going to think it’s great. "Hey, check it out, people with disabilities have their own space to play in". On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. The idea comes from a good and well meaning place – the father of a girl with a developmental disability.
So, why can’t I shake the feeling of "disability apartheid"? Why can’t I help thinking that this is forming a disability ghetto?
Let’s not forget this concept of "special needs", that really gets under my skin. It’s like the concept of "Special Olympics". It tastes… Rotten, patronising. Give me a pat on the head because I’m doing so well, why don’t you? Everyone’s a winner, aren’t they? This term "special" seems to be in great favour from those taking care of people with developmental disabilities. Yeah, they talk about caregivers, but they take care. Looking from the outside in, it feels very much disempowering.
Yet, I am sure the guy who set it up loves his kid very much, and is convinced that this park is the right thing. Just like the organisers of the Special Olympics know in their heart their event is good. But then, so many disability rights activists know in our hearts it looks like exploitation in so many ways. Not saying Morgan’s Wonderland is exploitation, don’t get me wrong! But what is so wrong about making existing theme parks more friendly? Integration (if well implemented) can only be a win for everyone.
In the end, I have no answer. I don’t know whether this park is a good thing, or if it’s a bad thing. Perhaps like so many other things in life, it’s a bit of both. There’s good, and there’s bad. I’m sure the "kids" will have a grand old time. And that is perhaps the most important aspect. At the same time, I can’t help wondering what is the better way.