Recently, an article on another theme park website got me thinking. ThemeParkInsider.com posted an article written by a gentleman who is wheelchair bound. He decided to take it upon himself to assume that the new attractions located in the forthcoming Avatar section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom “may not” allow riders to stay in their wheelchair if they want to experience the attraction.
He could possibly be right. However, due to the fact that so little is known about the attractions at this point, why bother making any assumptions at all until we know more? The article also mentions that he’s disappointed with Universal Studios Hollywood over how guests in wheelchairs who get transferred from the upper lot to the lower lot via a van lose a lot of theming from the park along the way. While most guests take a series of escalators down the hill (known as the Starway), it provides nearly no theming aside from movie soundtracks played along the descent.
The author of the article feels that he is being jipped from the park’s theme by sitting in a boarding area off to the side while waiting for a van to pick him up to bring him from A to B. He goes on to say that a character like Marilyn Monroe should entertain him while he waits, and someone like Frankenstein should drive the van itself.
Regardless of my opinion, the more important question is: Do theme parks have to be accommodating to all guests with disabilities in order to remain compliant with the American Disabilities Act? Thanks to a recent court decision, we may finally have an answer.
In Castelam v Universal Studios, the case revolved around The Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster at Universal Studios Hollywood. Basically, the accusation was that Universal Studios was not meeting the requirements of the ADA. In this instance, the rider did not possess one functioning arm and one functioning leg, which is what the park determined was required to ride the attraction safely.
Castelam was denied boarding on the attraction and thus filed suit. The ADA has never been extremely specific on theme park rides being able to accommodate all riders regardless of their disability. It’s court cases like this that challenge the law and determine how parks are required to design or modify attractions moving forward.
The court ruled in favor of Universal Studios saying that attractions do not need to be designed to accommodate all disabilities. The judge ruled that Universal Studios could offer whatever goods and services they wanted. This means that they can design rides however they want to, without having to take into account every single type of disability that could possibly ride them.
Here’s another way to look at it. Let’s say you own a gym. Not everything in that gym needs to be accessible to all people with all disabilities. For example, it’s ok if you have treadmills, even though people who do not have the ability to use their legs can’t use them. There are other alternatives such as free weights, but not everything in the gym needs to be catered to every disability.
On the flip side, the gym does need to be as accessible as any other business. There needs to be a certain amount of wheelchair parking spaces, a ramp from the sidewalk to the front of the business and one to enter the front door, if necessary. In addition, the aisles need to be wide enough in rows of equipment in order accommodate a wheelchair. However, each piece of workout equipment doesn’t need to be able to meet the needs of every possible disability. In addition, if a gym wants to have only treadmills? That’s their prerogative. If they determine it’s bad for business, then that’s their decision to make changes if necessary. However, it’s not a requirement.
The second part of the ruling stated that even though Universal Hollywood didn’t manufacture The Revenge of the Mummy, they can’t override Premier Ride’s (the company that did build the attraction) safety recommendations just to make sure they accommodate all guests. In other words, if Universal feels it is a safety issue, they can deny boarding as long as they can justify it.
Does this case apply to all theme parks? No. However, if other theme parks are sued for similar reasons, they can site this case which will hold some substantial weight in court.
Bear in mind, I am not picking on anyone who has a disability. If I have a peanut allergy and I walk into a restaurant that serves burgers and pasta, it’s unreasonable for me to expect them to remove the peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the menu. Likewise, if I have a peanut allergy and I walk into a restaurant called Peanuts! Peanuts! Peanuts!, it’s not fair of me to tell them how to run their business and maybe, it’s just not the place for me. Your thoughts?