Open for All
From guests in wheelchairs to children with autism, and customers visiting with service animals, family entertainment centers (FECs) must strive to cater to people of all abilities.
Failing to do so could cause owners and operators to run afoul with the law and become liable in costly court cases. (Estimates show a 14% spike in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-related lawsuits in 2017 in the United States.)
“Plus, it’s good business,” stresses Erik Beard, managing member and general counsel for International Ride Training, who frequently speaks on accessibility and ADA issues. “It enhances your service levels and helps to avoid some uncomfortable situations, as well as improves the facility’s profitability.”
Beard says he believes most FECs have a solid handle on the architectural aspects of ADA, the landmark 1990 civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. (A link to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design—the latest version available—can be found at the end of this story.)
However, facilities sometimes struggle on the more unique aspects of ADA as it applies to the global attractions industry, including ride access and procedural modifications to accommodate guests with disabilities, he says.
“FECs may be particularly prone to this struggle because unlike larger parks, most don’t have an in-house counsel or a disability services coordinator to deal with those issues,” says Beard, an attorney based in Avon, Connecticut.
FECs also may be light on resources to fight litigation, especially since many ADA claims aren’t insured, he warns. “An FEC has to be concerned about getting it right up front and avoid the lawsuit altogether. It can be a tremendous financial drain otherwise.”
Beard points to these five areas where facilities should focus their attention:
- Web Accessibility
Beard recently has seen a jump in website-related lawsuits, so FECs should be especially vigilant on accessibility if they sell tickets online or conduct any other commerce through their site.
“Unfortunately, what makes it compliant can differ on what part of the country you’re in,” he acknowledges. “There’s not a lot of good nationwide guidance on it.”
However, owners and operators can start with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative for general strategies, standards, and resources on topics like text alternatives, ease of navigation, and captions.
- Ride Access
Attractions like bumper boats fall into a relatively complicated area regarding ride access issues. The bottom line: The more guidance a facility can get from ride manufacturers on accessibility requirements, the better off the FEC will be, Beard says. “If they don’t offer guidance, then it’s up to the operator to determine the minimum physical requirements to participate in the attraction.”
For additional help, owners and operators can contact an ADA consultant or engineering firm, preferably one that deals in biomechanics, he suggests.
“The real question is trying to whittle down what requirements are absolutely necessary in order to ride an attraction in a way that doesn’t put a guest with a disability at an increased risk compared to a guest without a disability,” Beard says.
- Service Animals
Only two kinds of animals can be considered a service animal under federal law: a dog and miniature horse, he says. Also, the animal doesn’t need to wear anything special (like a coat) to indicate it’s aiding its handler—a fact that may not be intuitive for employees. “Front-line staff can get the business into trouble by asking the wrong kinds of questions about service animals,” Beard says.
The law, however, does require that the animal received training to assist the person with a disability.
- Guests with Autism
FEC owners need to be cognizant of guests with autism and understand those with sensory disorders may have difficulties waiting in long lines for food or an attraction or become overwhelmed with the facility’s smells, sounds, and sights, Beard says. To work with these customers and their families to enhance their experience, FECs can provide comfort rooms, be mindful of flashing lights, and consider becoming certified through organizations like the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards or KultureCity.
- Pathway Widths
In general, game room aisles should be at least 36 inches across to allow room for wheelchairs to freely move. However, keep in mind that certain areas of the country expect more.
“It’s always a good idea to not just check the federal accessibility guidelines but also review your local building codes to make sure your state or municipality hasn’t imposed something beyond what the ADA requires,” says Beard, noting FECs should take the same precautions with areas like bathroom fixtures and furniture.
For More Information:
- 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design: https://bit.ly/2eDty5y
- World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative: www.w3.org/WAI
- International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards or KultureCity: https://bit.ly/2GAEEoc.
On Course: Staying ADA Compliant with Mini-Golf
At a hefty 279 pages, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design can be a daunting read. In fact, the guidebook dedicates a sizable section to mini-golf alone, which details the minutiae of carpet height, slopes, and much more.
“There are special ADA rules for mini-golf walkways compared to walkways for the rest of the park,” explains Scott Lundmark, president of Adventure Golf Services in Traverse City, Michigan. “There’s sometimes room for interpretation in how the rules are applied.”
A few rules don’t allow much wiggle room, though. For instance, on all new construction, 50% of holes must be ADA compliant.
“Where possible, providing access to all holes on a miniature golf course is recommended,” the document adds. “If a course is designed with the minimum 50% accessible holes, designers or operators are encouraged to select holes which provide for an equivalent experience to the maximum extent possible.”
In addition, the guidelines read, “Where only the minimum 50% of the holes are accessible, an accessible route from the last accessible hole to the course exit or entrance must not require travel back through other holes. In some cases, this may require an additional accessible route. Other options include increasing the number of accessible holes in a way that limits the distance needed to connect the last accessible hole with the course exit or entrance.”
For the most part, FECs work to follow ADA rules and be compliant, says Lundmark, who runs the business with his father, Arne Lundmark, CEO and chief designer.
“They don’t want to shut the door on any customers from having fun,” he says. “I think they’re generally sensitive of people’s needs.”
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected].