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An Important Court Case and Stories of Discrimination at Theme Parks

Aug 15, 2023 |

By Ryan Geddie, Government Relations Specialist

Barriers to access can exist for people with limb loss or limb difference even in places you might not expect. Many people in our community have stories of being denied access to rollercoasters or other theme park rides because of their anatomy or because they utilize a prosthetic device. A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which held that, in the face of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Universal’s Volcano Bay cannot use “compliance with state law” as the sole justification to deny a person with limb loss or limb difference access to ride a theme park water slide. After the coalition learned of this important decision, we asked the Advocacy Community on AC Connect to share their stories about being denied access to theme park attractions.

Unfortunately, it’s common for theme park operators to impose restrictions on people with limb loss or limb difference without regard for how prosthetic devices actually function. As Glenn Bedwell shared, “I also was prevented from riding one with my 5-year-old granddaughter, the reason given was that it was due to me being an above the knee amputee who wears a prosthesis. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and explained and demonstrated that my prosthesis is positively attached to my femur via mechanical means as I have osseointegration and the prosthesis cannot fall off. I was still denied access and my wife had to take my place with our granddaughter.”

Glenn’s story is one that we hear too often, of a person with limb loss or limb difference being denied access to facilities based on a lack of understanding as to how different kinds of prosthetics work and are secured to the body.

Denise Hoffman shared her own story, saying that while she found she was able to “ride everything” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Universal Orlando, that her “local amusement park is a different story.” Denise added that “there are many rides that they will not allow me to ride, and it is very frustrating.”

At the Amputee Coalition, we have noticed that, while misconceptions and unjustified access restrictions exist across the theme park industry, more complaints about access restrictions come from local or smaller theme parks rather than larger industry players like Disney. Perhaps smaller theme park operators can study the ride designs and accommodations given to people with disabilities at larger parks to become more accessible to the limb loss and limb difference community.

Access to theme park rides and rollercoasters may seem like a marginal concern, when so many areas of society critical to basic needs remain inaccessible. However, the story of the theme park is not unique. The existence of a multiplicity of stories in our community about being denied access to theme park rides is a painful reminder of how people with limb loss and limb difference and our needs are disregarded, ignored, or misunderstood, to the detriment of our individual autonomy and collective dignity. At the Amputee Coalition, we’re happy to see that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that the ADA protects people with limb loss and limb difference in at least one related circumstance.

Thank you to all the community members who responded to our AC Connect call for stories related to this issue. If you’re interested in taking part in future discussions, or if you’re concerned with issues of access and rights for people with limb loss and limb difference be sure to join us on AC Connect!