Disney Parks Directed to Consider Segway Use by Disabled

Walt Disney Co. must consider letting disabled patrons use Segways at its theme parks, a U.S. appeals court said.

The court today overturned a judge’s decision throwing out a lawsuit by a woman with muscular dystrophy who claimed Burbank, California-based Disney violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not allowing her to use a Segway. In earlier lawsuits, she said she had to use a wheelchair.

The San Francisco-based appeals court ruled that Disney must take into account evolving technologies that make it cheaper and easier for the disabled to have the same experience at its theme parks as non-disabled people. It sent the case back to the trial court in Santa Ana, California.

“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 on behalf of the three-judge appeals panel.

Disney may be able to bar Segways if it can prove that the two-wheeled electric vehicles can’t be operated safely in the parks, the appeals panel said. Any safety requirements Disney imposes must be based on actual risks, “not on mere speculation, generalizations or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities,” Kozinski said.

‘Imagination Left’

Quoting Walt Disney himself, the judge wrote: “As the man who started it all said, ‘Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world.’”

Angela Bliss, a Disney spokeswoman, said the company hasn’t allowed visitors to use two-wheeled vehicles like Segways “due to the safety risks they present in our unique theme park environments.”

“All this decision does is return to the trial court the issue of whether Segways are permissible despite their safety risks,” Bliss said in an e-mail.

The case is Baughman v. Disney, 10-5592, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, San Francisco.

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