November 2015

Accessible Fun

EMEA attractions are working on new ways to welcome all guests

Funworld’s November 2015 issue looks at how autism-friendly attractions are ensuring a good time for every guest. Funworld Extra finds out how operators in the EMEA attractions industry are helping guests with disabilities and special needs enjoy every moment of their visit.

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Attractions are increasingly focusing on inclusion. Whether it’s developing waterproof wheelchairs for splash parks (Morgan’s Wonderland), launching “Night Owl” events for adults with autism (Science Museum, London), or improving accessibility for visitors with service dogs (Efteling), companies are taking steps to offer guests with special needs opportunities that might once have seemed impossible.  

The goal is to offer “a day of family fun, with the broadest access possible,” says Massimiliano Freddi, vice president of strategic development at Leolandia in Italy. In the Netherlands, Efteling offers disability-friendly facilities at almost all of its attractions to provide “an unconstrained and enchanting day out for visitors,” explains Coen Bertens, Efteling board member and chief operations officer.

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Siam Park in Tenerife celebrated its seventh anniversary in 2015 and has welcomed more than 5 million visitors in that time. “We strive to ensure more and more people—despite the difficulties they may experience in everyday life—can come to Siam Park again and again, and have a great time,” says Mariano Alarcón, head of the park’s lifeguard department. Here, Alarcón, Freddi, and Bertens highlight their parks’ work on accessibility.

What steps are you taking to accommodate visitors with special needs?

Massimiliano Freddi, Leolandia: We took part in the Italian project, “A ride for everybody.” It aimed to draw up guidelines to better understand and grant fair access to rides for people with Down syndrome and other physical disabilities. The guidelines have been recognised and published by the Italian Health Institute.

In 2013, we debuted “Mediterranea,” the first water fight/splash battle ride designed to offer direct access with a wheelchair. With the opening of “Peppa Pig’s World” this year, we have introduced an extra experience for people with physical disabilities.

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Coen Bertens, Efteling: Efteling aims to offer all guests an unforgettable day out and we have accommodated the needs of visitors with disabilities for years. Facilities are available to visitors who are unable to visit the park and/or attractions without assistance. Visitors can find exact information on our website: Guests with disabilities who produce a valid medical certificate receive a €2 discount on tickets.

Mariano Alarcón, Siam Park: We ensure visitors with physical or cognitive challenges get the attention required to allow them to enjoy their visit fully. We comply with all regulations and legal norms. We assist the clients to ensure they can enjoy the attractions or rides of their choosing. Safety and security measures are always properly applied and we take our time communicating them to the clients. Assistance may include helping people climb the stairs so they arrive at a ride safely and comfortably. If necessary, we will also assign a lifeguard to join them on the ride.

Can you give us some examples of things that have made a big difference to your guests with special needs?

Freddi: What really makes the difference every day is how we approach our guests: with sincere attention, with the right care to solve any unpleasant situation, with empathy, and always with a smile on our faces.

Bertens: We regularly review ways in which to further improve accessibility, often in consultation with third parties (professional bodies in the field). In 2015, we made a number of adjustments within the park. We changed the paving at locations such as the haunted house square, making it easier for visitors who have difficulty walking or who use wheelchairs to make their way around. We are making the Big Mouths—our famous, talking, wastepaper gobblers—more accessible to visitors in wheelchairs.

This year, in consultation with experts, we have been looking for ways to improve our attractions’ accessibility for visitors with guide and assistance dogs. Training sessions also pay attention to the way in which staff confer with visitors and their assistants—about how to make lifting and transfers as comfortable as possible, for example.

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What have you learned about people on the autistic spectrum and how best to provide for them?

Freddi: Every case is different, but we often see critical issues when people have to stand in crowded places, especially queues. Also, there can be difficulties in getting guests on and off the rides. Caregivers can be a great support in terms of evaluating each ride and taking into account possible evacuations.

Bertens: We use the same guidelines for visitors with autism as for all of our guests with disabilities. If a visitor’s condition is such that they are unable to use the regular queue and/or entrance, they may use the wheelchair entrance.

Guests with autism must produce a certificate from an independent doctor stating they are unable to stand in the regular lines. A portion of our guests with autism do use the usual queues and entrances, but where this is not possible, we are happy to make an exception.

Alarcón: In spite of their challenges, people with autism can have a great time in our park with little external help. In cases where a greater level of assistance is required, we will make recommendations and staff available.

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What are you doing to meet the needs of visitors with autism?

Freddi: We give caregivers as much information as possible. We suggest which rides usually have shorter waiting lines, to ensure a less stressful experience. We take care of guests at each ride, providing dedicated entrances and special attention—letting people on and off, if necessary. Staff members accompany them throughout the day. We ask guests for feedback about their experiences to continually improve our services.

Alarcón: Siam Park can offer special rates and Fast Pass bracelets. Staff always enquire whether additional help is needed and attend to any requests as they arise. 

What tips and resources do you offer to parents of children with special needs?

Freddi: We start by suggesting they learn about the park’s attractions before they visit, through our website. At Leolandia, we have a dedicated ticket booth where staff welcome families and give them our Accessibility Map. This useful brochure describes every ride in detail, covering physical and mental stresses, accessibility, restraint systems, and emergency evacuation procedures. We ask parents and caregivers to visually assess the ride and try it themselves first, to evaluate the possible impact on the person they are accompanying. Finally, we recommend they contact our staff if they have any doubts or need more information.

Bertens: A calendar showing days we anticipate to be less busy and other information is available on Efteling’s website.

Alarcón: We make it a priority to create an environment that allows children to enjoy park activities in the safest way possible. Parents of children with special needs can contact us, with the assurance we will find a personalised solution that will allow their children to have the most fun.

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How do you plan to further improve your provision for people with special needs?

Freddi: We’re planning to further adapt our structures and rides to make them more accessible. We’re also thinking about equipping the attractions with specific tools, such as starting audible and visual alarms. On top of that, we need to encourage even more people to plan their visits in advance, avoiding the crowded days that could have a negative impact on their in-park experience.

Bertens: We are giving this matter our continuous attention. We are currently working on a special park map with extra information for visitors with disabilities.

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Check out Funworld’s autism-friendly attractions report here.

Juliana Gilling is a contributing editor for IAAPA’s Funworld magazine, covering the European attractions industry. Contact her at