Appellate Court Reverses Disney Segway Decision

In a 3-0 ruling on July 18, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Disneyland must make reasonable modifications to permit the use of Segways in their park , unless it can demonstrate that the device can’t be operated in accordance with legitimate safety requirements.

“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,” said Chief Judge Alex Kozinski in the court’s decision.

The case stems from Tina Baughman’s attempt to visit the theme park on her daughter’s eight birthday. Tina has limb girdle muscular dystrophy, which makes it difficult for her to walk or to stand from a seated position, so she uses a Segway as a mobility device. After contacting Disneyland she was told that they could not make an exception to their policy that prohibits Segways and other two-wheeled devices in the park.

The lower court held that Disneyland is not required to modify its policy, because it complies wit the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by allowing power wheelchairs and scooters in the park. It is Disney’s position that it’s not “necessary” for Baughman to use a Segway, as she could access the park in a scooter or a wheelchair.

The Appellate Court disagreed, and held that mere access isn’t enough, but disabled guests are also entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services and facilities in places of public accommodation. And since Baughman cannot comfortably use a wheelchair or scooter, then Disney must make attempts to comfortably accommodate her.

According to the ruling, “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”

The court also noted, that with advances in technology, our expectations of what is reasonable has changed. According to the ruling, “As new devices become available, public accommodations must consider using or adapting them to help disabled guests have an experience more akin to non-disabled guests.”

The court stopped short of requiring Disneyland to permit Segways in its park, but instead held that they may be able to exclude them only if they can prove that they cannot be operated safely in their park. And that assessment must be based on actual risks, not on mere speculation. The court further suggested that Disney might, for example permissibly require Segways to travel only as fast as power wheelchairs..

So does this mean you can now take your Segway to Disneyland? Not exactly.

The case now returns to Federal Court in Santa Ana, where Disney attorneys will be allowed to offer proof that Segways cannot be operated safely in the park. And if they can’t, then they must allow them

Stay tuned.