Disney’s Segway Ban Upheld in California

     SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – Safety concerns properly led Disneyland officials to bar a disabled woman from using her Segway to tour the park, a state appeals court ruled.
     In 2006, Tina Baughman, who suffers from limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, called Disneyland to ask if she could tour the park using her Segway. Her disability causes a gradual weakening of the large muscles in her arms and legs, and while she uses a cane to walk short distances, she has difficulty getting up from a seated position and prefers not to use a wheelchair.
     Officials told Baughman that Disneyland policy bars guests from using two-wheeled devices to navigate the park. After writing letters and speaking to several Disney representatives Baughman sued in 2007, alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, California’s disability and civil rights laws and negligence per se.
     Disney successfully removed the ADA action to Federal Court, where U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney sided with Disney in 2010. Last year, however, the 9th Circuit unanimously reversed, ordering Disneyland to embrace new technologies to assist guests of the 58-year-old park.
     “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,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in that opinion. “As the man who started it all said, ‘Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world.'”
     Meanwhile, an Orange County Superior Court judge dispensed with Baughman’s remaining claims before trial, finding that Disney met its burden of proving that Segways are inherently dangerous in a crowded park visited by nearly 16 million people in 2012 alone.
     Disney’s chief safety officer, Gregory Hale, testified that while the park made specific accommodations for motorized scooters and electric wheelchairs, park officials decided Segways are unsafe and pose an unacceptable risk of injury to guests, including the user.
     Hale, who claimed to be a personal friend of Segway inventor Dean Kamen, noted in his testimony that the Segway is inherently unstable and “can tip over rapidly” in the event of a “sudden or unexpected input.”
     “In addition, if any part of the onboard computer fails, the Segway will not work properly and may, again, tip over or move unexpectedly,” Hale added.
     He likened the device to a unicycle in that both require constant movement by the rider to stay upright. Disney also submitted evidence that the owner of the company that makes Segways, British tycoon Jimi Heselden, died in 2010 after losing control of his Segway and plunging off a cliff.
     On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled for Disney, saying the “undisputed expert evidence showed Segways cannot be used safely in Disneyland crowds due to its method of operation.”
     “Disney produced expert evidence to the effect that Segways pose a substantial risk of injury in the crowded confines inside the park due to the vehicle’s design,” Judge Eileen Moore wrote for the panel. “Baughman did not counter this evidence with expert evidence of her own. Instead, she offered her own declaration to the effect that she has never had an accident on her Segway.”
     The judges were unconvinced by Baughman’s evidence that Disney is Segway’s biggest customer, with employees using them on back lots and giving tours of the California Adventure theme park before it opened.
     “[T]he issue is whether Segways can be used safely by guests inside the park,” Moore wrote.
     “The public is not present on Disney’s back lots where Segways may be used by employees. More telling is the fact that Disney’s ‘backstage’ Segway users ‘cannot go on stage at all while guests are in the parks,’ and even when Disney gave Segway tours in the past, the tours were limited to a predesignated route in California Adventure Park, adjacent to Disneyland, involved ‘constant supervision’ in ‘a roped off area away from other guests’ and were conducted in the early morning hours before the park opened to the general public.”
     Disney need only make reasonable accommodations for its disabled guests, the panel added, not “any and all possible accommodations that would provide full and equal access” to the park.
     “In the present case, Disney’s evidence demonstrated that given the crowds at Disneyland and the intrinsic characteristics of Segways, the device poses a danger to the guests of the park, including the operator of the Segway,” Moore concluded.
     Last year, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit approved a class-action settlement allowing Disney to continue its ban on Segways while it develops its own four-wheel electric standup vehicle. The device is intended for disabled guests who cannot use a wheelchair, scooter or other mobility device that requires sitting.

%d bloggers like this: