Does Disneyland Discriminate Against the Disabled?

A new case applies the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, even though Mickey Mouse may not like it

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Tina Baughman wanted to take her daughter on a trip to Disneyland for her eighth birthday. But there was a problem: Baughman suffers from limb girdle muscular dystrophy, which makes it hard for her walk or stand up from a seated position. She contacted Disneyland in advance and asked for permission to use a Segway. Disneyland said no. It told her to use a wheelchair or motorized scooter — which Baughman says does not work for her.

Baughman sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, charging disability discrimination, and last week a federal appeals court took her side.  “Technological advances didn’t end with the powered wheelchair,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said — and it ordered Disneyland to reconsider its decision. As the court said in the first line of its opinion: “Segways at Disneyland? Could happen.”

(MORE: Got $488? That will cover one day’s admission to Disneyland for a family of four)

The ruling sends an important message. The ADA — which requires employers and public facilities to take reasonable measures to accommodate people with disabilities — was passed with great hoopla and bipartisan support in 1990. But employers and major institutions decline all the time to make accommodations for the disabled — even, as in the Disneyland case, when it would be easy to do the right thing.

The ADA was a civil rights milestone when it was enacted — Edward Kennedy described it as “an emancipation proclamation for people with disabilities.” Until then, disabled people had few legal weapons for challenging policies that excluded them from jobs and public facilities. But the ADA rewrote the legal landscape: suddenly, equal access was a national commitment, and the burden was on institutions and people who dealt with disabled people to make “reasonable accommodations” for their different abilities.

Baughman’s request to Disneyland was precisely the sort the ADA was intended to help with. She was not making unreasonable demands for the park to completely change how it operates. She was just asking, in advance, if she could ride a device that people ride safely in public all of the time. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have laws authorizing the use of Segways.

(MORE: Ew, Boys: The Brewing Legal Battle Over Same Sex Education)

Disney invoked its policy of barring all two-wheeled vehicles, which includes bicycles and Segways. In court, it argued that since Baughman could access the park using a wheelchair or a motorized scooter a Segway was not strictly necessary for her to use the park – it was not their problem if her visit was made “uncomfortable or difficult.” But the Court of Appeals rightly pointed out that if the ADA were read to require only accommodations that are strictly necessary, it would not require many accommodations at all. After all, the court said, a paraplegic could drag himself up the steps of a courthouse, so installing a ramp would not strictly speaking be necessary.

Baughman’s suit hardly makes for the sort of publicity that image-conscious Disney is looking for. Disney, however, is also known for a commitment to conformity. It was only this year that Disney ended a 60-year policy barring its theme park employees from sporting beards — though they can still be no longer than a quarter inch.

(PHOTOS: Meditations on the Disabled Body)

Disney is hardly alone in digging in its heels on disability issues — even in this era of the ADA. Disabled people live with an enormous amount of inconvenience, pain and humiliation from unaccommodating companies, government entities and individuals. The court’s reference to a disabled person dragging himself up the courthouse steps is — incredibly — a real example.  Until the Supreme Court ruled against it by a 5–4 vote in 2004, Polk County, Tenn., forced a man with a broken pelvis and two legs in casts to get out of his wheelchair and crawl up the steps to attend court hearings that they decided to hold on the second floor. When he finally refused, he was arrested for missing his hearing.

It is not clear how the saga of Disneyland and the Segway will end. The Ninth Circuit has only ordered the amusement park to reconsider its policy — and held out the possibility that it could keep the ban if it could show that safety truly requires it. But it appears likely that Disney will ultimately have to yield on its Segway ban in Baughman’s case, which would be a victory not only for her and her daughter but for any of us who may — whether we are expecting it or not — one day require a little accommodation.

30 comments
JudeLawGuardian
JudeLawGuardian

One more malcontent trying for their 15 minutes and a couple of hundred thousand dollars.  It's bad enough with the motorized scooters at Disneyland---people are rude and practically run you over if you don't get out of their way--can't wait to see what an even bigger pain in the ass Segways are going to cause.

Kimberly Rhoades
Kimberly Rhoades

I'm all for helping the disabled.  I need help myself, too.  But, if she is claiming that she cant use the wheelchair or motor-scooter because she has problems getting up from a seated positions, does she realize that all the rides are seated?  The wheelchair or scooter would be easier, 'cause she's already seated.  All she needs would be a little help to lift her from the wheelchair onto the ride and back and she doesn't have to stand.  I agree that the Segways should be and stay banned. Disney is just too crowded for that. i was walking through Disney about 2 years ago and ran into a little boy and knocked him down.  I wasn't going fast and stopped as soon as i felt him. he still got slightly hurt from being knocked down but at least he didn't get ran over.  I felt so bad I gave him my glow in the dark bracelet.  If I had been riding a Segway he would have gotten hit and ran over, most likely. Not only that, but it was during Christmas and the Fire Department came down to close Disney, at least from other people getting in.  It was impossible to to do anything, and on top of that, it rained, and when it rains at Disney, everyone runs, punches and knocks people down to get to the exit. and it gets really, really slippery then.

Kimberly Rhoades
Kimberly Rhoades

I'm all for helping the disabled.  I need help myself, too.  But, if she is claiming that she cant use the wheelchair or motor-scooter because she has problems getting up from a seated positions, does she realize that all the rides are seated?  The wheelchair or scooter would be easier, 'cause she's already seated.  All she needs would be a little help to lift her from the wheelchair onto the ride and back and she doesn't have to stand.  I agree that the Segways should be and stay banned. Disney is just too crowded for that. i was walking through Disney about 2 years ago and ran into a little boy and knocked him down.  I wasn't going fast and stopped as soon as i felt him. he still got slightly hurt from being knocked down but at least he didn't get ran over.  I felt so bad I gave him my glow in the dark bracelet.  If I had been riding a Segway he would have gotten hit and ran over, most likely. Not only that, but it was during Christmas and the Fire Department came down to close Disney, at least from other people getting in.  It was impossible to to do anything, and on top of that, it rained, and when it rains at Disney, everyone runs, punches and knocks people down to get to the exit. and it gets really, really slippery then.

f_galton
f_galton

Speaking of discrimination, Disney won't allow me to attend the park with my service gnu.

l0bl0
l0bl0

Have you BEEN to Disneyland or Disney World lately? I've seen them bend over backwards frequently to accommodate disabled guests - just watch bus drivers as they personally assist disabled guests onto the bus and secure their wheelchair or scooter, watch ride operators assist the disabled getting in and out of rides, then consider that the entire park is designed to be enjoyable by all and accessible by all. All rides have specially designed cars just for the disabled if needed. This one girl wanted to ride a Segway and Disney says no, and you're going to attack them as if they refused to allow her into the park? This is just sensationalism, and you should be ashamed.

I'm in China right now where there are nearly zero accommodations for the disabled, and many disabled people are left to a life on the street or hidden at home because they can't access the places they need to go on a daily basis. When a place like this exists in the world and you try to shame Disney for denying one girl one request, you should be embarrassed by this terrible piece of journalism.

David Smethie
David Smethie

Disney is definitely going to be facing lawsuits because of their lack of adjustment to the disabled community. The entire purpose of the act is force companies to open up the opportunities everyone else has to the disabled community.

Ronval912
Ronval912

In response to this kind of intrusion into their business practices, the theme park industry is developing stand-up motorized scooters that work exactly like a sit-down one but allows a person to be in the standing position.  Disney can still bar the Segways and offer the standing scooter for the safety of all the guests.

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

Disney made that legal argument? I would have gone with not trusting others on segways. (You can wreck em! I've seen people eat dirt on em) Also that they're quite a bit speedier in a hugely crowded place.  But yeah that was a pretty lame argument.  Now had it been say an Iron Lung I'd have agreed with Disney. 

Then again if someone gets wacked by a 9 year old on a segway isn't Disney then liable still? I mean who are you suing? The handicapped 9 year old wanting fun or them? 

Hastin Zylstra
Hastin Zylstra

As a Segway owner (ride one every day to work), and avid Disneyland visitor - Segways in the park are a BAD idea. Here's why: The stopping distance, the way they accelerate, and the fact that they do not easily stop.

Segways don't stop like a traditional powered wheelchair can. Even set to slower speeds (upward of 5MPH), a Segway doesn't stop immediately. Due to the leaning that's required to accelerate, you have to allow time to lean back to stop, unlike an ECV or traditional Scooter.

Also, the base of the Segway is what controls the speed. As someone who goes to the park very often, it's not uncommon to get bumped by other people, strollers, wheelchairs, etc. In a Segway, this would be vary dangerous, because if there's force on you, you will travel forward faster, possibly hitting people in front of you. Again, this isn't a problem with a traditional powered wheelchair.Segways also don't stop if they run into something or someone. The Segway PT (the regular model), can't even take the height of a curb - I've dropped off curbs and lost control when learning proper riding techniques. Just imagine if something thinks that they can take stairs, or a croud forces them to. Worst of all, Disneyland is designed to look UP and not down. A small child could easily step in front of the Segway and get hit without the operator noticing until it's too late (since as I've said before - the stop is not immediate).

A good Segway owner would need to know where all the curbs are, where clearances are too tight, and avoid crowds where they could bump into people. However, Disney can control their walkways, but they can't control other guests - and I think that's where the real danger is with Segways in the park. People push and shove all the time to get through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, and what happens if someone steps in front of a Segway rider in one of these situations? Or pushes them? Or doesn't see a curb?

Arguably, it's the same as someone stepping in front of a power wheelchair, but the Segway rider has more stopping distance, and a higher center of gravity compared to a wheelchair.

The only way that I see a Segway working for a guest in the park, would to have Cast Members that ensure that the rider has a clear path in all directions, like they do for the Horse Drawn Streetcar or Red Car Trolley attractions. 

Love my Segway, but there needs to be other solutions for guests in Disneyland. I've seen other types of wheelchairs (walking wheelchairs, and elevated seats) in the park, and they allow them.

Kristi Richardson
Kristi Richardson

Disney has there own Segway tours that they sell. They cannot say it's ok for people who pay for their tours but not someone who brings their own. I don't see how they have a case.

Melody
Melody

The policy currently is that businesses do not have the right to require people to show medical need to access accomodations for the disabled.  Meaning that once Disney allows one disabled person to use a segway in their parks, what is to stop other people without a disability (or a disability who really could use a wheelchair) from using a segway as well?

happydayfortennis
happydayfortennis

"Until the Supreme Court ruled against it by a 5–4 vote in 2004, Polk County, Tenn., forced a man with a broken pelvis and two legs in casts to get out of his wheelchair and crawl up the steps to attend court hearings that they decided to hold on the second floor. When he finally refused, he was arrested for missing his hearing."'

The ruling only won by one vote?? What is wrong with these people.

Joel Mullen
Joel Mullen

This is odd, considering that Disney offers "Segway tours" of some of their parks... hardly a ban... they just charge you for it.

WrentheFaceless
WrentheFaceless

Disney has done far more than many companies in accomodating the disabled.  There are plenty of ways they offer them resources to enjoy the park and its attractions.

Segways would only add to the over congestion of the narrow walkways of Disneyland, they go too fast and are too heavy and would likely cause injury by someone opperating them in an unsafe manner.  The risks of someone getting ran down by one of these is too great for how crowded that park gets.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

As a business owner and a person who cared for a disabled father for 30+ years, I can appreciate both sides of this issue.  Situations like this require us to be mature and rational.  Businesses should make efforts to accommodate the disabled but they cannot accommodate all the needs of every person.  At some point we accept that what has been done is reasonable and we move on. 

KrashTestDumby
KrashTestDumby

There was one point that the Court made that's not reflected in this story: the ADA was passed in 1990. Technology has moved forward. The disabled should not be limited to using only the technology available 22 years ago.

The 2010 ADA update specifically mentions the Segway in the definitions of "Other power-driven mobility device" (Reference CFR Title 28, part 36, § 36.104  Definitions). Per the 2010 ADA update, Segways are a proper mobility device.

The judge in this case is NOT saying Disney must allow everyone to use a Segway. It is saying people with disabilities that a Segway would be appropriate should be allowed to use them. My wife uses a wheelchair, and even though she can stand and walk short distances, a Segway would not be appropriate because of her balance issues.

For those about to say "but a [105 pound] Segway is dangerous, they can go 12.5 MPH!" The 190 pound powered wheelchair my wife uses (a Bounder, from 21st Century Scientific) is capable of going over 11 MPH... that doesn't mean she drives it that fast in crowded places.

Those about to say "I don't want people on Segways running into me!" Are you one of the many who "didn't see" my wife when you fell over her? We've had people in front of us in a line, turn around and fall over her - you "normal" people don't look down! In fairness, she has run into people stepping out in front of her from side isles because she couldn't see over the 5-foot displays from her 4-foot sitting height - we're even. If she COULD use a Segway, she might not hit so many of you.

anlane
anlane

@JudeLawGuardian Clearly you don't deal with accessibility issues. I'm sorry you had a bad experience with a grumpy old lady on a scooter, but as it turns out, not everyone with a disability is a jerk! And Segways are awesome!

anlane
anlane

@Kimberly Rhoades I have the same disability as this woman, and I use a Segway for mobility. First of all, unless you have Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, you can't say what is "easier" as far as physical logistics (sitting, standing from rides, etc). A scooter/wheelchair may seem more logical, but disabilities defy logic, and Segways have many advantages for handicapped people (physical, psychological, I could go on...). Second of all, many of us who use Segways for mobility use them everyday, all the time (like a wheelchair substitute, imagine that!). We are VERY comfortable riding a Segway. It becomes as comfortable as walking, and therefore poses the same risk in terms of running into small children. Also, just because the Segway is capable of going fast doesn't mean that's the goal. Disney visitors tend to travel in groups; if I'm walking with someone, I'm obviously not going top speed. I would argue that the Segway is safer in a large crowd than a wheelchair because riders can see above the crowd. I realize that the idea of a Segway is scary because of its inherent awesomeness, but the bottom line is that this is becoming more and more of a common mode of transportation, and it should be accommodated. If I were forced to use a wheelchair, I can assure you I'd be a lot more dangerous to small children because it's something I'm not used to and comfortable in.

anlane
anlane

@Hastin Zylstra "A good Segway ownder would need to know where all the curbs are, where clearances are too tight, and avoid crowds where they could bump into people." Sounds to me like the sort of things that anyone on wheels would have to do, whether it be Segway, wheelchair, scooter, whatever. Also, I invite you to do a quick google search on the price of a standing wheelchair. There are many reasons why one might choose a Segway instead...

Hastin Zylstra
Hastin Zylstra

These Segway Tours are done before park hours, and are monitored by Cast Members, they are not just out with the general public in the park.

Noël Hollis
Noël Hollis

Some states do give businesses the right to ask for the certification cards for animals, but other things they do not. 

And in those states that do not, people can just say that their dog is a 'seizure' dog or whatever, lie about it and get away with it. So yes, actually it does open up places for everyone who is dishonest to bring their dogs to dine. 

CookieMonster
CookieMonster

The ADA laws do not automatically open up businesses to that type of problem. 

For instance, a restaurant would be required to let in a seeing eye dog for a blind person, but that doesn't mean that they are required to let you and everyone else in town to bring their dogs to dine.  

moll11
moll11

in a restricted area under the care of instructors before the hours open to general public.

naggingmoose
naggingmoose

Yes I agree. The inventor of the segway died in an accident while using one. People seem to get aggressive when using a segway and disregard others rights. They are not a good idea!

KrashTestDumby
KrashTestDumby

ADA trumps state laws, thanks to something called the United States Constitution (reference: Article VI, paragraph 2, commonly called "the Supremacy Clause"). Your state can pass a law saying businesses can ask for documentation, but get a lawyer, and the state loses.

Federal law says you can ask exactly two questions: Is the animal (dog or miniature horse) required because of a disability, and what service is the animal trained to provide? (Reference: Code of Federal Regulations, Title 28, part 36, § 36.302  "Modifications in policies, practices, or procedures", paragraph (6) "Inquiries."

Or, read this summary from ADA:

http://www.ada.gov/service_ani...

KrashTestDumby
KrashTestDumby

Actually, you are in error. The inventor of the Segway did NOT die on a Segway - it was the multi-millionaire owner of the company that makes Segway. Read more at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new...

And this isn't about "everyone, everywhere - bring your Segways!" It's about the FEW disabled people who cannot sit in wheelchairs for which a Segway is useful. It's not even "if you're disabled, you can use a Segway," the individual needs a *valid reason* for using an "other mobile device," according to Federal Law.

Rosanne Mottola
Rosanne Mottola

You know, the ECV's (electronic wheelchairs) started the same way. Now I see someone get run over by one almost every time I'm at Walt Disney World. They put people who don't NEED to be in one in one, and then they let their 4 year old "drive" it.