Q and A - February 2017

How to Meet the Attractions Accessibility Challenge

One of the greatest challenges amusement parks and other attractions face is sensitively and safely aiding guests with disabilities. According to Meeting the Challenge, an accessibility compliance consulting firm, the disability community is the largest minority group in the United States, comprising some 57 million Americans; in the United Kingdom they number an estimated 10 million adults, with an annual purchasing power of £80 billion.

Rachael Stafford, director of business development for Meeting the Challenge, answers a few questions from Funworld about how attractions can effectively manage disability access.

You attended IAAPA Attractions Expo the past two years. In your contacts with attractions there and elsewhere, what seems to be the most pressing current issue regarding guest accessibility?

[It] revolves around finding a balance between guest services/ guest satisfaction, safety, and guest accessibility. This balance is not limited to physical accessibility considerations alone, but includes invisible disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), developmental disabilities, and autism. These are all major topics in balancing guest enjoyment with guest accessibility and safety.

Attractions must constantly weigh the desire to let guests with certain physical disabilities enjoy amusement rides with concerns for their safety. How can these considerations be balanced?

There are no instant solutions for striking this balance; however, attractions should work through a process including seeking expert advice, educating staff, and engaging with disability groups to achieve a resolution that maximizes enjoyment for all. Balancing safety concerns with enjoyment for all persons is a constant issue floating around several [legal] courts right now. Attractions should be aware that it may no longer be acceptable to rely solely on the ride manufacturers to provide best practices. Attractions should run their own analysis of safety and satisfaction by working with disability and safety groups, questioning ride requirements, and speaking on a regular basis with other parks about their approaches to these items.

Access issues often involve conditions such as autism that are sometimes quite challenging in crowded and noisy attraction environments. What suggestions do you have for handling such situations?

The trend, and what is advisable, is for attractions to enter into dialogue with their guests about their abilities. This can often lead to a very customized experience for a guest that leads to full enjoyment of the attraction. There is no “one condition fits all” when it comes to disability.

How can attractions improve on what they’re already doing with regards to accessibility? 

Attractions should be aware of the general need for access, as well as the requirements for access under the law. We understand getting answers on accessibility can seem overwhelming, but attractions have a place to start by engaging in education and awareness. Regardless of the size or history of the attraction, some amount of personnel should be committed to accessibility information, legal trends, and guest service.

What role does staff training play in this whole conversation? 

Often there is little or insufficient training regarding people with disabilities. Most commonly we see training about people with disabilities in the onboarding process, typically consisting of a 15-minute overview geared at general safety. Specific training such as disability etiquette or service animal laws is hardly raised, or is raised in a department-specific capacity. On several occasions while working in the field, our organization encountered 10- to 20-year employees who recall having little or no disability etiquette training.

What advantages are there for attractions to provide accessibility information about their properties on their websites?

Particularly for persons with disabilities, websites can provide valuable planning information and options that will literally make or break their travels. If an attraction has accessible features and they are making efforts toward further accessibility, they should promote that fact through their website. But they must make sure the website is accessible as well. There are free, easy-to-use resources that assist in running a quick check of website accessibility. For example, JAWS, which checks for ease of accessibility for a blind or low-vision individual, or WAVE, which runs an error report of general accessibility issues in the website file.

What expert resources can you suggest for attractions that would help them determine necessary actions to take regarding access?

Accessibility consulting organizations like ours, Meeting the Challenge, are available and do accessibility work including audits, technical assistance, design review, and policy/procedure advice in various disability access scenarios full time, and charge various fee levels.