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Amusement Park Faces Backlash Over Disability Access


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A change to the way one amusement park accommodates visitors with disabilities is angering some families who say their kids are no longer able to enjoy a place that’s supposed to be fun.

Until recently, Kings Island in Mason, Ohio allowed visitors with disabilities to enter rides from an alternate entrance, largely bypassing any lines. But this summer, the park began requiring those with special needs to instead sign up for a boarding time, which takes into account the wait times other park goers experience, and return to the ride when it’s their turn.

The policy is proving frustrating to some families of those with autism who told the Cincinnati Inquirer that waiting — whether in line or not — can trigger a meltdown. One father said his 20-year-old son with autism began biting his hand and “lashing out” when he learned he would have to wait to board a ride. Another dad said his daughter with the developmental disorder started kicking and screaming.

Officials at the Autism Society, however, told the newspaper that the group supports the boarding pass approach, indicating that they don’t expect preferential treatment.

Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., which owns Kings Island and 10 other amusement parks, said the policy offering “equal access” is not new, but may not have been enforced uniformly.

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. teri.doolittle says:

    My husband and son were at Kings Island and Cedar Point earlier this month. They had no problems with the wait-time solution at Cedar Point, but they had incidents at Kings Island. For example, at one ride, they had waited for the duration of their required time and entered the ride. The ride attendant loudly proclaimed to the rest of the people in line, “We are looking for volunteers who are willing to let these people go in front of you. Any volunteers? Anyone?” It was embarrassing, and clearly deliberately so. In another line, my son was teased. We use this type of system in many of the parks we visit and we do not expect front-of-the-line access on demand, just a reasonable alternative to being in the regular line. Our son would probably be OK in most regular lines if it were not for the other people, who can be real jerks. He has been pushed, elbowed, tricked, yelled at, threatened, laughed at… it isn’t pretty. And he is a nice young man who would never hurt or tease anyone.

  2. Kim says:

    I don’t have a problem with this. We have not been to this particular park, but I am not looking for my son to be able to “skip the line”. He just can’t stand in a line that long. So if I know that we have to wait 20 minutes for a ride, I can structure our time, do an activity with him near the ride, and be back at our appointed time. However, if this is the system that is in place, we should not be shamed or humiliated for following it as the last poster was. The ride operators need to be educated and held accountable.

  3. KA101 says:

    Yeah, change can be stressful, especially when it involves losing something valuable such as no-wait access to an amusement ride. I can understand kids not being happy with the change.

    I can also understand the frustration from seeing someone roll up and just bypass the wait entirely, so I’m sympathetic to enforcing some amount of waiting for all.

    Thus, I think being able to sign up for a time is a fair resolution to queuing issues generally, and would want to to so despite being TAB: autistic folks aren’t noted for doing well in loud, bright, jostle-y places like your typical amusement park queue.

    Proposed solution: post a publicly visible* check-in or similar at ride entry points, and let people either sign up for a defined ride time, or stand in the queue for “first available” seating, as preferred. Figure that you have 60 seconds–rough estimate, I’m sure actual park-operators can fine-tune it–to arrive for your ride, or you get bumped to the next ride-slot

    *So queue-waiters can see that this next ride only has X amount of seats left, and aren’t frustrated when a group shows up to take up the rest of the seats.

  4. ruth ann redmond says:

    I would like to add that in Cincinnati at the Great American Ballpark, they sell the “handicapped” accessible seats that are not in the clouds (plaza level) to anyone willing and able to spend 4 to 6 times more than a lower cost seat which my son who has both Down Syndrome and severe form of Autism is terrified of. He is very afraid of heights and it keeps us from being able to go to a weekend game or special event there. They should be ashamed of themselves and my 29 yr old son LOVES the Reds, but I guess they are more interested in the money than accommodating persons with special needs.

  5. Marcy Ryan says:

    I am severely physically disabled and work with many peers who are Autistic, Aspbergers, and Developmental challenges. They and many of my peer group find it difficult to get into, and stand in line with others who may be intolerant of our challenges. I cannot stay in the hot sun for more then a few moments and due to medical challenges and medications I can get extremely ill if I stay in the sun. And despite “”Accessibility awareness” there is often insufficient room or turning radius to enter and leave rides safely and sadly those owning and operating such facilities are unaware of the difficulties facing myself and my peers just getting to and in their facilities. We are not asking for Priority as one put it, just a better understanding of the needs disabilities present when attempting to do what others take for granted. Access to recreation facilities which are supposed to be geared to all members of the family including those with special challenges. The ADA was written and meant for all, and it does include recreational facilities although this one seems to think it doesn’t!!!.

  6. marie camp says:

    As a parent of an autistic adult we had many challenges but we found if we talked to the manager ahead of time and made arrangements for a specfic time on the ride, he was much calmer. Most patrons would understand why this was done. Children with autism lead a very structured lives and if you explain ahead of time you might get better results.

  7. Debbie says:

    A few years ago I went to Disney World with my son who has a really difficult time waiting. I didn’t want the “pass” and got in line with my son. After waiting about 10 minutes he was laying on the ground refusing to move. People looked at us like we were crazy. Then when it was our turn to get on the ride he refused to go on the ride and walked away. Getting a ticket to come back later does not work with him, because it is hard to get to a place and then come back later. We decided to get the “pass”. Now we could get on the rides in a reasonable amount of time. Due to the cold (it was record breaking cold) or the stress of being there, my son then had accidents or had to go every half hour or so. Even with the pass we had to keep getting out of line and taking him to the bathroom. We hadn’t had an issue in about 5 years. We were completely unprepared. They did have some sweatpants at the park that fit him and I bought several pair. So we quickly went through the 15 or so pants we had and I came home each night and did laundry (yes – I should have rented a car and bought grown up pull-ups). My point…without the “pass” our trip would have been unbearable. We went one more time two years later, used the “pass” and had a nice time. He didn’t have accidents this time. If we didn’t have the pass, we may as well stay home. For some of us, the “pass” is the only way we can participate.

  8. heather Hudson says:

    I expect for my child preferential treatment [no wait period] as my lil guy if he saw a ride that he so wanted to go on and there was a line up he’d totally lose it after a few minutes and or also due to crowds which also impact his Autism. If we were at the ride but had to sign up to board then leave to come back this wouldn’t happen either my son would think he wasn’t ever going to get to go on the ride and would totally melt down. Thanks to all those out there that either a] overused the backdoor pass thing or b] abued it’s proper use of it by either a] lying about a disability which was non existant and or b] bringing huge groups along just so they could bypass the wait lines other’s abused this and now the rest of us honest parents and children who would only limit using a special pass for no more than 4immediate family members this is why policy has changed. Some of our children still need/require special treatment or preferential treatment rather-just sayin!

  9. Amy Henasey says:

    If it is an option, we pay for the fast pass for our daughter, who lives with autism (Asperger Syndrome). Otherwise we work with what is available and make our amusement park choices and plans according to her ability to handle the excitement, anxiety, and environmental/sensory challenges. If a ride wait is lengthy and she is unable to manage the wait, we do not go on it. This should be the case for everyone, including those with “neuro-typical” kids! We do not expect preferential treatment. If we have a question or an unanticipated problem does occur, generally a word with the ride operator or park manager elicits support and understanding.

  10. Cari Watrous says:

    Communication communication communication – did the amusement park communicate it was going to change its policy with time for folks to adjust? a focus group to discuss when and how to make the change? Personally, I am all for this … I am someone with a physical disability and major chronic pain. I am physically unable to stand and wait and because of a brain injury I experience sensory overload fairly easily.
    I believe the ADA requires a level playing field and to me that means something different for everyone and a business can’t exactly be adjusting to all of our individual needs so somebody is going to get “shorted”. I think no line/no wait for people with disabilities means we are giving the short end to all of those without disabilities. Granted the world is overwhelmingly giving us the short end but I don’t feel comfortable saying that justifies me doing it when I know better.

  11. Paul says:

    It seems to me that making some concessions for kids who have more difficulty learning to wait than others is prudent business. I’m glad to have found that the amusement parks we’ve been to do. Learning to wait is something kids in general will do given experiences that allow them to do so.. It also seems to me that it’s easier to learn to wait when waiting for a familiar ride known to be fun. It must be a challenge to help some kids learn to wait.

  12. Liliana says:

    Thanks to those passes my autistic 17 year old child has been able to really enjoy the parks. He very much tries to be patient on line but the rude actitud and comments of other people makes him and the whole family very uncomfortable. Being able to skip the lines has make a huge different even for his younger brother who before has to deal with the rude behavior and mealt down of his brother. Also the parks we had attended have a maximum of 6 people with the pass, we are not asking for a front-of-the-line access. Having to wait for a VERY long time in lines, makes my other ways “normal aspi” kid look like a person from other planet.

  13. Ron Curll says:

    Hats off to the amusement parks. Too many people are abusing the privilige of by passing the line. It was originally put in place for people with physical disabilities, because of access problems. Now everyone wants in on the action, just like handicapped parking. It is not for nor was it ever for people with coginitive disabilities. I have a grandson with autism and he has been taught that at time he must wait his turn. The parents of the autisitc young man should have taught him better. Please people stop abusing the system.

  14. heather says:

    As the parent of a cognitive and physically delayed child as well as the teacher of special needs children, it has always been my belief that our job is to teach our children to live in the world that exists, not expect everyone else to bend to the needs of a few. We have a right to access, not to privileged access.

  15. Teresa says:

    So how ’bout opening up a couple of days a week two hours early and admitting only those who can verify a disability and their immediate family? Or set aside a few days each month to permit zip passes to anyone who can substantiate their disability and their family members?

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