The Mitchell Chang Foundation & Morgan's Wonderland Advocate for the Benefits of Inclusive Play

Updated: May 4

The San Antonio non-profits lend their respective voices to the chorus of advocates envisioning accessibility in play spaces for children of all abilities.

 
Inclusive Play Spaces; All abilities playground
Mitchell's Landing (left) & Morgan's Wonderland (right)

As parents, we sometimes overlook how important it is to keep kids active. In today's tech age, we rely heavily on the assistance of smartphones and tablets, offering kids distractions in place of play. Parents often interpret "occupied" as "active" and "entertained" as "busy" and forget the virtues of good old fashion playtime for children.


In reality, there is no substitute for play. Research suggests that 75% of the brain's development occurs after a baby is born, between birth and the early 20s. In childhood, playtime is an activity that stimulates the brain to form connections between nerve cells. It's during this critical stage of development that children develop both gross motor skills (i.e., walking, running, jumping, and coordination) and fine motor skills (i.e., writing, gripping and detailed handwork).


Linking play to positive outcomes is key to a child's development. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) designates play as a significant element of developmentally appropriate teaching practices. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidelines to pediatricians to encourage play, and the UN High Commission on Human Rights declared play a fundamental right of all children.


Promoting Acceptance and Awareness


Creating spaces for children of all abilities to learn, play, and thrive is at the forefront of the respective missions of two San Antonio area non-profits working to advance awareness of the benefits of inclusive play.


The Mitchell Chang Foundation, its soon-to-be-completed Mitchell's Landing, and Morgan's Wonderland provide families and children across developmental domains access to inclusive play. These organizations create more unified communities and promote fun, interactive spaces for children to feel respected, nurtured, and encouraged while active.


The Mitchell Chang Foundation & Mitchell's Landing


The Mitchell Chang Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit in San Antonio founded by Dr. and Mrs. Chang in honor of their late son Mitchell in tribute to his fun-loving nature and inspiring story. The foundation is building the first accessible public inclusive playground for the San Antonio parks system and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. Mitchell's Landing, San Antonio's first public inclusive playground, is a pirate-themed inclusive playground designed as a space where families can come together to create joyful memories through interactive play.


TXi spoke with The Mitchell Chang Foundation Director April Chang to learn more about Mitchell's Landing and the foundation's work toward continuing in the spirit of Mitchell's service to others as they honor his legacy.


Why doesn't the seventh-largest city in the country already have access to these public playgrounds?


"I don't think there is one specific reason for the lack of free public inclusive playgrounds for the parks system in our city. Inclusive equipment is much more expensive than standard ADA-accessible equipment, usually about three times more," Chang said. "There is a financial commitment a city has to be willing to take and prioritize to bring multiple inclusive playgrounds to a community."


For Chang, the first step toward gaining that commitment comes from creating greater community awareness and championing inclusivity.


"Inclusive playgrounds go beyond the minimum access required and provide developmental opportunities for all individuals. This includes physical, social-emotional, communicative, and cognitive developmental stimulation."


One of the goals of Mitchell's Landing is to create a footprint for others to follow.


"Visiting other cities, once a playground like Mitchell's Landing opens, the community sees the need and benefits of inclusive playgrounds, and more are built. The first tends to be a large privately-funded playground that inspires inclusivity to be increased in upcoming projects."


As Chang notes, no endeavor is too small to spotlight the need to bring families greater access to inclusive spaces.


"To make a felt impact, a playground doesn't need to be a half-acre of inclusive playspace. Several small inclusive playgrounds strategically located around a city can have a positive impact and shape a community's perceptions of families with disabilities."


Morgan's Wonderland


Touted as the world's first Ultra-Accessible™, fully-inclusive theme park established in 2010, Morgan's Wonderland has been a leader in promoting inclusive play. In 2017, the park opened its expansion, Morgan's Inspiration Island, named on the 2018 "World's Greatest Places" list by Time Magazine.


From its inception, Morgan's Wonderland's mission centered on inclusion has sought to bring communities together in fun.


"The Morgan's Wonderland' family' of outdoor recreational spaces epitomizes inclusive play," Morgan's Inclusion Initiative CEO Dr. Brent Fields said. "Since the debut of unique, non-profit Morgan's Wonderland, we have worked diligently to bring together those with and without special needs to have fun, to make memories, and to create [a] better understanding of one another."


Over the past 12 years, the theme park has thrived and continues to expand to offer greater opportunities for inclusivity.


"We didn't know what to expect when the world's first Ultra-Accessible™, fully-inclusive theme park opened in spring 2010, but the park's success encouraged us to innovate and expand our mission of inclusion. Thus, we now welcome guests of all abilities to award-winning Morgan's Inspiration Island splash park, new Morgan's Wonderland Sports complex, and new Morgan's Wonderland Camp, which offers a summer-type-camp experience year-round."


Through its Inclusion Initiative, the organization will continue to broaden the spectrum of inclusivity and adds new endeavors to reach broader audiences.


"Our next big thing is the Multi-Assistance Center at Morgan's Wonderland, or The MAC, a revolutionary new approach to improving the quality of life for children and adults with special needs."


"The MAC will house 30 partner organizations in a multi-story, 165,000-square-foot, 'one-stop shop' so those needing assistance don't have to waste time crisscrossing the community."


Bridging innovation and inclusive play, Morgan's Wonderland inspires others to change the landscape of playgrounds for today's families and future generations.


"Throughout the year, we hear about communities across the nation and around the world that are wanting to make their new recreational spaces more inclusive. We'd like to think we've played an important, innovative role in focusing more attention on those with physical and cognitive special needs. Much has been accomplished in shining the spotlight on the special-needs community, but as our founder, Gordon Hartman, constantly reminds us, we're just getting started."

 

Looking for more information?


To learn more about The Mitchell Chang Foundation and Mitchell's Landing, visit themitchellchangfoundation.org.


For more on Morgan's Wonderland, visit morganswonderland.com.


Follow along with TXi on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to join the conversation around innovation in Texas.