(CN) – Noting that a narrow reading of the Americans With Disabilities Act could force paraplegics to drag themselves up a set of stairs, the 9th Circuit ordered Disneyland to leave some wiggle room for visitors who would rather navigate the park on a Segway.
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“The ADA guarantees the disabled more than mere access to public facilities; it guarantees them ‘full and equal enjoyment,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for a three-member panel. “Read as Disney suggests, the ADA would require very few accommodations indeed. After all, a paraplegic can enter a courthouse by dragging himself up the front steps, so lifts and ramps would not be ‘necessary’ under Disney’s reading of the term. And no facility would be required to provide wheelchair-accessible doors or bathrooms, because disabled individuals could be carried in litters or on the backs of their friends. That’s not the world we live in, and we are disappointed to see such a retrograde position taken by a company whose reputation is built on service to the public.”
“We have every confidence that the organization that, half a century ago, brought us the Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln can lead the way in using new technology to make its parks more welcoming to disabled guests,” Kozinski added. “As the man who started it all said, ‘Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world.'”
Tina Baughman, who has muscular dystrophy, had planned to take her daughter to Disneyland as a birthday present, but the Anaheim, Calif., park barred the use of Baughman’s Segway, saying she said would instead need to rent a wheelchair or a four-wheeled scooter.
Baughman said that the Segway is better for her because she has trouble getting to her feet from a seated position, but U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney sided with Dinsey in 2010.
Since Baughman had claimed in three previous lawsuits that she regularly used a scooter or a wheelchair, however, Disney argued that Segway accommodation was not “neccessary” under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The federal appeals court in Pasadena unanimously reversed on Wednesday, finding that Disney and the lower court had misinterpreted the very heart of the ADA in improperly fixating on the ADA’s use of the word “necessary.”
Disney must at least consider making all “reasonable” accommodations for disabled patrons, and it must keep pace in that regard with the developing technology.
“In deciding what’s reasonable, facilities may consider the costs of such accommodations, disruption of their business and safety,” Kozinski wrote. “But they must also take into account evolving technology that might make it cheaper and easier to ameliorate the plight of the disabled. In the past, it might have been enough for a theme park to permit only non-powered wheelchairs. As technology made motorized wheelchairs and scooters cheaper, safer and more reliable, our expectations of what is reasonable changed – as Disney recognizes. But technological advances didn’t end with the powered wheelchair. As new devices become available, public accommodations must consider using or adapting them to help disabled guests have an experience more akin to that of non-disabled guests.”
In January 2012 oral arguments before the 9th Circuit, prominent disabilities rights attorney David Geffen insisted that Baughman has “never used a wheelchair.”
He said the reference to her being “wheelchair-bound” in prior litigation stemmed from the accidental use of language that fits other ADA cases.
Disney’s lawyer, Daniel Fears, criticized the dangers of Segways, which lack brakes and steering wheels, yet go as fast as 12 mph.
Geffen countered that “Disneyland is the largest purchaser of Segways in the country.”
“Their employees use them in the back lots,” Geffen said. “They show the device in Tomorrowland and say, ‘The Segway is the mobility device of the future. It’s as natural as walking.’ And, after an hour of training, you can use a Segway at Disneyland to tour their park.”