I rode a Ferris wheel with my daughter!
On a clear and crisp evening on Friday night, December 17, 2021, in the light of the full moon, I rode the Whirling Wonder Ferris wheel with my daughter Chloe at the unique Morgan’s Wonderland theme park in San Antonio!
Until that night, I never imagined those words would come out of my mouth. The very idea of such a thing seemed impossible and, at best, a far-fetched dream.
So, what’s the big deal about riding a Ferris wheel? I mean, who doesn’t love a Ferris wheel? It is, after all, a common and accessible ride for just about anyone, right? Well, what about a little girl who is visually impaired, who uses a wheelchair, and who gets very stressed when introduced to an unfamiliar environment? Especially an environment that involves a setting with lots of people, loud noises, flashing lights, enclosed spaces, bulky restraints, and/or jerky movements. A typical Ferris wheel ride is NOT accessible for my Chloe. But I rode a Ferris wheel with my daughter, despite her physical and cognitive special needs.
When I started working as a staff member for Morgan’s Inclusion Initiative (with an office at Morgan’s Wonderland), I was mesmerized by this beautiful Ferris wheel, the Whirling Wonder. I was so inspired by the very idea of a ride like this that could also accommodate someone in a wheelchair. But, as I once told a fellow staff member at the park, it would take a lot to get Chloe on that ride, and even with all the best assistance, it’s likely it would be too much for her to process. This inviting ride with its calming appearance (the design, shapes, and colors are just so appealing) could prove to be a source of tremendous stress and discomfort for a medically fragile kid like Chloe.
I can’t begin to describe all the typically wonderful experiences (plays, movies, concerts, festive gatherings) we’ve attempted to share with Chloe – only to discover that it unintentionally created a great deal of stress and discomfort for her. I had high hopes that we might give the Whirling Wonder a try SOMEDAY. Still, the pragmatic side of me was somewhat resolved to the reality that it might not ever work for her, like so many other potentially wonderful experiences that remain inaccessible for her.
Well, I don’t know what it was about this magical evening when all the stars of the universe aligned for what became a perfect night for our family, but it was not just my imagination – it really happened. That night we experienced all the intentional elements of inclusion that make Morgan’s Wonderland so special. The sounds were subtle and appropriate; the lighting was soft and calming; the staff was attentive and courteous; the restrooms were accessible and accommodating; the surfaces of the entire park grounds were smooth and easy to navigate with a wheelchair; and even upon our arrival, we found ample accessible parking for our very large van and unfolding ramp.
By the way, on that special week before Christmas, we didn’t just ride the Ferris wheel. We both enjoyed the heck out of the whole experience Morgan’s Wonderland has to offer. It was one of the most precious moments I’ve ever shared with my daughter in her 13 years on this planet. It was nothing less than magical!
Back to that Ferris wheel. Chloe absolutely loved every minute of it. She seemed comfortable with the way her wheelchair fit into the space. She loved the glow of the lights and the wind in her face as we gently moved up, around, and back down in the wheel. I was hardly able to appreciate the view from the top of the wheel because my eyes were fixed on her and the smile that never left her face throughout the whole ride. If she had the ability to speak words about her experience on this ride (it seems inadequate to refer to it as just a ride), I think she might say something like this: “Where has this been all my life? I love everything about it and getting to share this with my dad was simply the best!”
It was such a gift to see Chloe feel so comfortable, carefree, and delighted, safely enjoying this Whirling Wonder of movement, lights, and fun in a way that felt like it was designed just for her. Oh, and the real bonus of this treat? Looking just a few feet away to see her mom and brother (both able-bodied with no disabilities) enjoying the same exact experience with us at the same time – priceless! It’s hard to put into words what it means for a healthy 58-year-old dad and a 13-year-old medically fragile girl (living with many severe disabilities) to share the same ride/experience. We were able to safely enjoy it together in a place where we both feel included and guests in a place that feels like it was created with both our needs in mind.
I’ll say it again…I RODE A FERRIS WHEEL WITH MY DAUGHTER! And both of us will never forget that magical moment!
Culture of Inclusion
Feeling of Belonging
Safety and Comfort