by Heather M Eichenbaum Esq
Amusement parks have, over the last few years, faced increasing pressure to expand accessibility to those with disabilities. Evidence from the US suggests that more and more guests are now arriving at the park with a particular brand of motorised walking aid.
Specifically, visitors with limitations on their ability or willingness to walk are requesting access with Segway machines – but what are your obligations?
A Segway is a two-wheeled, motorised, “people transporter” on which the rider stands upright as it is balanced and controlled completely by their body and hand movements. Segways can reach speeds of over 12 miles per hour.
So are Segways the new wheelchairs, something parks must allow in the gates to avoid claims of discrimination? In short, no. General law requires that reasonable accommodation, which does not cause a danger to the disabled visitor or other patrons or employees, must be made.
Segways, however, have the capability to causs a serious accident, due their speed and relative lack of stability, particularly for newer users. Wheelchairs, even if motorised, do not move at the same high speeds as Segways and are far more stable. Thus, wheelchairs do not cause a danger to others. Further, in the US, Segways are not accepted by the Food and Drug Administration as “medical devices” so cannot be categorised the same as wheelchairs.
While few people will falsify a disability to ride in a wheelchair through an amusement park, Segways are perceived as a “cool” mode of transportation and draw attention from children, teens and adults alike. Park operators should not put themselves in a position of having to evaluate whether a guest with a Segway has any real physical disability. Thus, a blanket rule disallowing Segways within your park will avoid having to make judgment calls, or intrude with personal questions.
However, instead of turning away a guest who requests entry with a Segway, leading to a potential discrimination claim, offer them a free wheelchair or scooter to use for the day. This will help to negate any allegation of discrimination because you have offered a reasonable alternative at no expense or inconvenience to the guest. Though patrons who favour Segways may be upset at the idea of sitting instead of standing, legally this alternative will protect your park from liability for discrimination in any subsequent lawsuit which might be filed.
Heather Eichenbaum is an attorney with Spector Gadon & Rosen PC, located in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Florida. Clients include Six Flags, Steel Pier, Gillian’s Wonderland, Holiday World and Reithoffer Shows. Heather can be reached at +1 215-241-8856 or firstname.lastname@example.org