Disney vs. the IBOT

On the heals of the controversial conclusion to Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., it seems the mouse is now taking on another Dean Kamen invention — the IBOT. And this one looks like it might get ugly.

For those of you not familiar with the IBOT, it’s a power wheelchair that can climb stairs, hop over curbs and even operate in a two-wheeled standing position. When it was first introduced it drew accolades from the disability community; as it promised to offer wheelers more dignity and freedom. The down side was that it came with a hefty $30,000 price tag and it wasn’t covered by Medicare or Medicaid. In the end, Johnson & Johnson discontinued IBOT production due to lackluster sales.

Still, there are a couple hundred IBOTs out there, so it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll see them from time to time.

Enter Myron Rosner, a North Miami IBOT-user. According to Myron, he was harassed by Disney cast members at Epcot and Animal Kingdom, when they told him he had to operate his wheelchair in the four-wheeled (sitting) mode. Now I know this may seem trivial to some people, but it’s an important distinction to Myron; as he is used to being at eye level, and didn’t want to go back to sitting. It’s just a matter of dignity.

Rosner said he was humiliated in front of his wife and children. It even brought his wife to tears.

According to Disney, they do permit IBOTs in the park, however they require them to be operated in the four-wheeled position at all times. And although they apologized to Mr. Rosner, they cited safety issues as being the reason for this policy.

Oh yes, and did I happen to mention that Mr. Rosner is the mayor of North Miami? Which is why this incident has gotten so much media attention.

But, beyond the hype, where does the law stand on this one? Tough call. If you use the same logic as the judge in Ault v.Walt Disney Co.; you could say that Mr. Rosner didn’t *have* to operate the IBOT in the two-wheeled mode. In other words, it would have met all of his access needs if he operated it in the four-wheeled mode. It was choice, not need that dictated his decision to operate it in the two-wheeled mode. Just like the judge said in the Segway case that it was a choice for the plaintiffs to use their Segways, when scooters and wheelchairs were available for rent in the Disney parks. On the other hand, unlike a Segway the IBOT *is* classified as an assistive device; so shouldn’t users be allowed to operate it in whatever mode they feel is necessary?

Like I said, tough call.

And then of course there is the safety issue. I have no answer for that one either. Although the IBOTs look a little scary in the two-wheeled mode, I’ve never heard of anyone falling over or running over somebody with one; but then again, there aren’t very many of them around.

Who knows how this will all play out. Like I said, there aren’t very many IBOTs out there, but still it would be nice if this matter were sorted out.

Stay tuned.