Landmark Ruling in Handicap Access to Coaster – Will This Affect Future Ride Design?

Posted by Rachel S on Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

 How accommodating should theme park rides be?

A court case in California charging a theme park with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) resulted in a landmark ruling that the park – Universal Studios Hollywood – was not in violation of ADA guidelines when it banned handicapped riders from The Mummy ride. This may be the ruling heard round the world – or at least in anyplace where the ADA applies or similar laws are in play.

Background of the Lawsuit

Angel Castelan and Marvin Huezo filed suit against Universal Studios and NBC Universal alleging that the park “failed to remove significant physical barriers to their facilities… which deny persons with with mobility disabilities the full and equal enjoyment of the… facilities offered… to the general public.The lawsuits went on to say that Universal is “denying persons with amputated limbs access to their major theme park rides” and accused the park of violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Huezo is a double amputee who lost both legs in an accident and Castelan is a double amputee who lost his forearms in a childhood accident. Castelan said he had been allowed to ride Revenge of the Mummy for six years prior to being denied. He was told the policy had changed and riders now had to be able to hold onto the safety bar. At a later date, Castelan and Huezo were together and both were denied the ride even though Huezo had arms. They were told that the new requirement was one arm and one leg to be able to ride.

In addition to The Mummy, the lawsuit complained of 10 other violations where ramps are too steep, windows for services are positioned too high and many restaurants don’t have handicap accessible tables. The court ruled in summary judgment against the two handicapped individuals saying that Universal Studios was within its rights to deny Castelan and Huezo access according to the manufacturer’s restrictions.

New case takes on handicap access at theme parks

How Parks Treat Handicapped Individuals

Some parks will provide handicapped guests with a list of rides they may enjoy based on their disabilities, but nothing prevents guests from sneaking onto rides where attendants aren’t vigilant or knowledgeable. In 2011, a double amputee died after falling from the Ride of Steel roller coaster in a Darien Lake amusement park. His family sued and the park settled, but there was signage posted warning of ride restrictions which the man ignored.

Another case involved a man with a prosthetic leg that sued under ADA for being barred from a ride at Busch Gardens. He won a nominal amount – enough to cover his legal fees – but not enough to call it a real victory. The plaintiff said he makes a practice of sneaking onto rides that bar amputees from riding. But if he’s hurt, would he file suit blaming the park for letting him on?

The Double Edged Sword of ADA and Accessibility

It seems that if parks deny access over safety concerns, they face potential litigation, yet if they allow handicapped guests onto rides, or don’t detect a handicap or if a handicapped guest ignores restrictions and tries to conceal their handicap, and is hurt, the park also faces potential litigation. Where is the line between protecting guests and being overly restrictive and where does the guests’ culpability start and end?

In the Castelan case, the court said that the park wasn’t responsible for the ride’s design and was within its rights to restrict according to manufacturer’s recommendations, but that the suit may have been better targeted at the manufacturer. It seems almost as if they were advising or challenging the plaintiffs to redirect their lawsuit at the ride designer and maker. What would happen if this were the case?

New suit questions theme park accessibility

Will Litigation Impact Ride Design?

If litigation is aimed at ride designers, what will that mean for future theme park rides and riders? This raises some important questions – should rides be designed to be accessible for all? Is it possible to design rides suited for all? Should amusement parks and ride designers have to be 100% accommodating? Is it even possible to design thrilling rides that are 100% accessible?

If designers are forced to design with accommodation in mind, will rides become less interesting or will they rise to the challenge? It remains to be seen if Castelan will take on the ride manufacturer and without a lawsuit to force their hand, will designers proactively lean towards accommodation and is there an ethical imperative to do so? 

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2 responses to “Landmark Ruling in Handicap Access to Coaster – Will This Affect Future Ride Design?”

  1. Colton says:

    As a double leg amputee I can’t understand how I am any different than any one that has legs. I understand with just a lap bar. But how am I held in any different than someone with legs with the over the shoulders. They have the hump and buckle that prevents me from slipping out the bottom.

  2. Mae says:

    I use a wheelchair due to a bad ankle issues I can’t walk on one leg. I went to Kings Domenyon park and was not let to ride hardly anything there. I am not missing anything and have full use of one leg to use for transfer etc yet I was told I could ride the Ferris wheel and a few kids rides. I was also laughed at by the staff and had to have a paper with me at all times in the park to show I’m disabled. The pointing and laughing really hurt.I could not even sit in a wheelchair in the park and do nothing there I had to be screened first to see if it was appropriate for me to be in the park I was told. I had to go to the first aid desk and list my medical history.

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