By Suzanne Robitaille
A disabilities lawsuit against Walt Disney Co. has been dismissed, after a judge rejected a proposed settlement from three park-goers who sued Disney for not letting them bring Segway Personal Transporters into the park. Though Disney offers personal four-wheeled scooters to those who need mobility assistance, the plaintiffs claimed that a ban on the two-wheel transporters at Disney’s theme park in Florida violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Disney agreed in December to acquire at least 15 newly designed Segway-like electric stand-up vehicles, or ESVs, to settle the case. But U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell in Orlando yesterday voided the preliminary settlement and threw out the case. Presenell said the plaintiffs had failed to show that Segways were “necessary” to access the park.
“Although some individuals may, with good reason, not want to use those devices and instead prefer to use a Segway, that preference — standing alone — is not essential to accessing Disney’s parks,” Presnell wrote in the opinion.
For the most part, Disney does an excellent job at providing accommodations for people with disabilities. Stephen Ashley, the author of Walt Disney World with Disabilities, runs an unofficial website detailing some of the accommodations you can ask for at the park and resorts. Walt Disney World “goes above and beyond what the ADA requires in its theme parks,” says Ashley.
Deaf and hearing-impaired park-goers can follow the rides at Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, and Hollywood Studios in Orlando with a PDA-sized closed-captioning device that’s free to use with a $100 refundable deposit. The sleeker, lighter 2008 version of the narration device now has descriptive audio for visually impaired guests.
Disney also offers several wheelchair-accessible rides. For instance, at Magic Kingdom you can stay in your personal wheelchair for the The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and It’s a Small World; other accessible rides require you to transfer to a seat.
If you have a disability that is not visible or obvious, you may want a guest assistance card, which tells cast members what your needs are and can make for a much easier experience. Disney has an official web page for guests with disabilities, but it could be more comprehensive and is difficult to find online.
As for Disney’s plans to admit Segways, they probably will do so eventually. They won relief for now — but others could still sue. Segways are not yet covered under the ADA, but Disney now sees what it’s up against.