Accommodating Individuals with Special Needs

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the accommodations associated with it, are quickly-evolving topics in the aquatic and theme park industries. How do we best accommodate these guests and make their experience equal to those without a disability? Are we required to provide immediate access to rides upon arrival, or is it acceptable for guests to wait in line the same amount of time as everyone else? What procedure is there if an individual’s disability makes it more difficult to wait in line? Every guest and their required accommodations are different. The most important thing to remember is that we must provide every reasonable accommodation we can to ensure an equal, enjoyable experience.

One of the most recent documented cases with regards to line or attraction policies is the A.L. v. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc. case. A guest with an Autism Spectrum Disorder claimed he was unable to wait in line due to his disability and that he was not accommodated 74f749912294748c50ef060690a722caproperly through immediate access to the rides. The park had recently changed their policy from immediate access to a program requesting guests to register and receive cards granting appointment times to access attractions. The program would allow guests to wait ten minutes less than those in the general waiting line. In addition to the reduced wait time, depending on the disability, staff could use their discretion to grant a certain number of “on-demand, immediate access” passes to guests, which allowed them to get on rides between their appointment times instantly. In this particular case, the judge ruled that because the guest had the “on-demand, immediate access” passes, in conjunction with the appointment times, he was able to essentially walk onto all attractions with only a ten-minute wait, a time period he had been able to wait comfortably during previous visits.

While not all parks are able to provide such detailed, well-oiled programs like Disney, it is important to determine the appropriate access program for your facility before any issues arise. More and more, we are seeing smaller parks provide unlimited immediate access passes to their guests with disabilities. The passes tend be good for the guest needing the accommodation, as well as one other individual (typically a caregiver), rather than the entire party the guest is with. One of the most important aspects of complying with the ADA is proper training for your ride operations and guest relations staff. Your staff should not inquire about any disability or diagnosis, but rather, what accommodations an individual’s disability requires. This provides guest relations staff with the only information they need to properly accommodate the guest. Ride operators need to be familiar with the possible accommodations the park will provide in order to incorporate the accommodation with as little disruption to typical operations as possible. While guests without a need for special accommodations may become upset due to increased waiting times, it is still your duty, and the duty of your staff, to find reasonable accommodations for your guests. Overall, it is important to have these discussions with your management team so you can develop a program that best suits your facility and guests, providing an equal experience for all.

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