Sunday, August 05, 2001

Alive and well


Amusement park disability policies draw comment

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        A few weeks ago, I wrote about Deborah Gibson's brother, Ernie Padget, returning to California with a bad taste in his mouth for Kings Island's disability policy.

        Mr. Padget has a leg injury that makes standing for long periods of time painful and reported to the park's guest relations office for a pass that allows disabled customers to bypass the long lines for boarding rides. The rule allowing only one family member to accompany the disabled guest in this privilege, however, meant breaking up the family party of four, and the outing was disappointing.

        Reader feedback made it clear that others, with and without disabilities, have been troubled by the disability policies — and abuse of policies — at amusement parks here and elsewhere. Here are some comments.

Abuse at Disney

        From Keith and Bonnie Littlepage, Cincinnati:

        “There is another aspect to this problem: blatant abuse of the system. This abuse desensitizes people to the needs of persons with disabilities.

        “We were in Orlando, Florida a few years ago and witnessed abuse close up at both Disney World and Universal. At each amusement park, we encountered a large group traveling with a wheelchair. There were 10 people in one group, and seven in the other.

        “We encountered these groups a number of times during the day in waiting lines, and moving between rides. At some rides, a different person was seated in the wheelchair. We were not the only people who noticed them. In some waiting lines, they were a topic of conversation.

        “No person in either group needed a wheelchair, or was unable to walk long distances. Whenever we saw them, (except when they were at the (disabled) accessible entrance), the children in the groups were using the wheelchairs for a private amusement ride.

        “We do not know if they lied to get the wheelchair, or stole it from a person who really needed it, but their only goal was to get preferential ride access.

        “Because of these abusers, we had to suffer longer waits, and persons with disabilities now must suffer a policy developed to be fair to all attendees.”

        While some readers express concern over nondisabled guests abusing the system (and demeaning the experience of disability), others share stories of significantly disabled guests and their families being embarrassed by a lack of training among personnel.

        Rosalinda Thomas of Florence writes:

        “Two years ago my best friend, Tanya, came to visit with her family from Texas. Her son, Jeremy, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and has been in a wheelchair since age 3. My friend and her family had just finished a trip to Disney World, due to the Make a Wish Foundation.

        “We had season passes to Kings Island and loved going to the park, so planned to take them there. Tanya asked me to call Kings Island to be sure they would accommodate her son. She wanted us to be able to stay together.

        “When I called the park, they said there would be no problem. There were no special instructions. But in the ghost house, we were stopped and accused of trying to break in line. The ride was stopped and the manager was called.

        “We were asked how they were supposed to know that Jeremy was not faking his illness! This was said in front of people waiting to get off the ride and some who had just gotten on. I pointed out that this child was clearly not in a rental wheelchair, that he could not walk... Jeremy's father was holding him the entire time, since he had been in the process of putting him on the ride.

        “After we argued with this man for 30 minutes or more, he gave us a card allowing us to stay together. Even then there was no apology.

        “I called to make a complaint and was asked what I wanted. I said the only thing that I wanted was for someone to give out the right information when people ask about accommodations, so another family like Jeremy's wouldn't have to be embarrassed. I know my friend's family will never visit a Paramount park again.

        “I understand that some people try to abuse the system, but if Disney can work with millions of people each year, why can't Kings Island work with thousands? Kings Island still needs to get their act together!”

        I told David Mandt, a Kings Island spokesman Tanya's story.

        “We are sincerely sorry that the day Tanya and her family spent at the parkwas negatively affected by misinformation and misunderstandings,” he said. “Over time, we have fine-tuned our guidebook for Guests With Disabilities and refinedour programs in an effort to make sure everyone has an enjoyable visit. Weare very committed to continuously improving and enhancing the experience we offer all of our guests.”
       Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail: dkkendrick@earthlink.net.

       



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