Lesson in Accessibility at Amusement Parks

Have you ever noticed, while waiting in line for an attraction, peoples' public personas or how we perceive them because of their looks, are totally squashed as they sit onboard a roller coaster waiting to be scared to the point of pure exhilaration.
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If there was one thing I noticed while at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio it was that everyone loves amusement parks! Have you ever noticed, while waiting in line for an attraction, peoples' public personas or how we perceive them because of their looks, are totally squashed as they sit onboard a roller coaster waiting to be scared to the point of pure exhilaration. I mean how funny is it to watch how people's faces change when the ride starts to when they get off. For once everyone seems equally human. The hardest faces turn into smiles, the mean expressions turn into joyful facades, people turn from adults back to children.

Back to the topic of this blog. I have a disability, I am proud of my disability but never know what to expect in a public place like an amusement park. Besides the access issues, I walk with a cane and a short brace (technically called an AFO, ankle foot orthotic), I have to be open to the stares, jeers and comments of the public. That will always bother me, especially because I was there for my son's little league tournament and I know he notices. Thank heavens we have really supportive parents and coaches! I can only describe my experience as the best example of how I see the future of amusement parks, and at Kings Island they're going backwards.

We drove from Chicago early in the morning to arrive at the park around 4:00 p.m. Ohio time which left us six hours to roam the massive grounds. I wanted to go on the rides but didn't want to burden my son because I am a slow walker and need to take breaks from time to time. I really wasn't going to be able to physically stand in line for long periods of time, so I convinced my 17-year-old nephew to join us by offering some Speed Pass tickets and unlimited sodas. I did this so I could selfishly, devilishly, go on all the rides and not have to hold my son back.

So my nephew and I set off to check out the new ride, Banshee, while my son went with a group of players from his team. On our way we stopped to ride the Delirium which is part blender, part mixer and was truly amazing, but then we went to Banshee and were stopped, properly, by the parks staff and I was asked if my brace was soft. I said "parts of it are hard." I was then informed that I would be unable to ride this massive, new attraction because, "per manufacturers' specs" no guest wearing a brace or cast that is made of hard material may ride. I thought for a moment and said "well, that sounds crazy because I have been on coasters and rides across the globe and have never been denied because I wear a "hard brace." So I asked if I removed the brace may I ride and they said no, I would have to go speak to someone in Guest Services. So we did, and I spoke with a very nice young lady who told me it was a manufacturer specification to not allow hard braces or casts and that I should have checked it on their website. Naturally, I did check on their website and when I looked at "Casts and Braces" I saw no mention of manufacturer specifications and it actually stated this as a safety issue, which is perfectly fine! Now, there were a couple discrepancies, on the website and what I was told. First, I have been on dozens upon dozens of the manufacturers' rides and had never been denied access and the website does not say that "people who wear permanent braces such as orthotics or prosthesis will not be allowed." Let me clear one thing up, people who wear orthotics typically wear these because of trauma to the brain or spinal cord and have lost some function in the limb. But as I spoke to this young supervisor at Guest Services -- I explained that I could take off the brace and get on the ride -- she said that I must have shoes on to ride all rides, and if you came into the park with the brace you had to "wear it on all rides." She then told me that it was a manufacturer's specification that no braces or casts be allowed on the rides they manufacturer because it may cause damage to the ride. None of this was explained on the website that she kept referring too, so in lieu of an argument I simply told her that it should have been properly explained to me at the time I paid the extra money for the Speed Pass. In fact, she told me there were numerous rides I would not be allowed on and that I would not be refunded for my Fast Pass. I left Guest Services with no real explanation as to why I would not be allowed other than the manufacturer saying it was not allowed. No service recovery for my inconvenience. If Kings Island were to be honest and just say they do not want people wearing casts or braces to ride certain rides because of safety, I would probably have been okay, but to tell me that it was a manufacturer's specification was seemingly passing the buck to avoid looking discriminatory towards people with disabilities wearing braces like mine.

I believe Kings Island feels it's a liability to allow certain disabilities on these rides and is afraid to mention it because then they would need real guidelines and proof that riding certain rides could be unsafe or damage the attraction. It became very apparent that it's much easier to blame it on the manufacturer, Bolliger and Mabillard, because they are not around to answer. The Giant Drop at Six Flags Great America is one of my favorite attractions and I have been on it at least 20 times, while the Giant Drop at Kings Island would not allow me to ride because of the leg brace. It says on the website that certain rides require leg restraints and a brace would not fit safely, that's a good excuse, but the giant drop has nothing touching our legs -- so why should I not be able to ride? Truth be told if Kings Island would have asked me a few safety questions about my disability and said "hey, we do not think it's safe for you to ride," I may have challenged a little bit but would have conceded to the fact they were thinking about my safety. I'm never one to challenge people when they are looking out for my safety, but it seems that Kings Island was looking out for their safety without even understanding the possible legitimacy of my safety.

Properly stating on the website that "Kings Island does not allow people with spinal cord or brain injuries" to ride all rides, I would have planned accordingly. I think honesty is the best policy and to have a young person tell me that my brace could damage the ride was purely an excuse. I bet if people with disabilities read this article, then spread the word about Kings Island and its unfounded policy, they would immediately see a drop in attendance, because we never travel alone and many of us wearing braces have children. I bet they would find a manufacturer like the ones who Disney and Six Flags use and build rides for everyone. So I think the future of access in amusement parks is at Disney and Six Flags -- not at Kings Island and its affiliates.

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