Prioritizing Accessibility Experiences in the Theme Parks Industry
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 billion people globally—or 16% of the world's population—have a significant disability. These include movement disorders, hearing and vision impairments, sensory processing issues, and cognitive conditions.
To ensure that this broad demographic can fully enjoy their attraction visits, theme and amusement parks around the world continue to make strides in offering attractions that are accessible for guests with disabilities.
Europa-Park in Rust, Germany, offers a variety of accessibility options for visitors, such as detailed information on what they offer online so guests can prepare for their trip. They also provide a guide for guests with visual impairments and a reduced ticket price for guests with disabilities, says Park Manager and Accessibility Manager Thorsten Marohn.
“A theme park is a place where people come together to have fun and enjoy entertainment,” Marohn continues. “That's why it's all the more important that barriers are removed so that people who are dependent on an aid, such as a wheelchair, can have exactly the same experience. In order to remove all these obstacles and barriers and to enable self-determined participation, it is important that we lead the way, especially in leisure facilities and amusement parks, and make the barriers as small as possible.”
Morgan's Wonderland in San Antonio is the world's first theme park designed with individuals with support needs in mind.
“When you go out into the park, all of our rides, we make sure that if you are in a wheelchair, you’re not excluded from anything,” President Richard Pretlow explains. “Our carousel, our off-road attraction, our Ferris wheel has a special gondola that is both large enough and opening is wide enough where someone who’s in a power-assisted or manual wheelchair is able to do that and enjoy that attraction the same way anybody else would.”
Additionally, the Ultra-Accessible Splash Park at Morgan’s Wonderland offers waterproof, water-resistant pneumatic wheelchairs, so guests do not have to worry about damaging their personal mobility aids.
These are just a few of the ways, Pretlow says, that Morgan’s Wonderland ensures everyone can enjoy the park’s experience side by side. “So, whether you’re ablebodied, you’re in a wheelchair, you have sensory issues and things like that, you’re able to do everything with your entire family,” he adds.
Water World Ocean Park
In 2022, Water World Ocean Park in Aberdeen, Hong Kong, became one of the first water parks in Asia to be designated as a Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
Through this certification, Ivan Wong, chief executive of Ocean Park Corporation, says the park provides an expansive environment with sensory challenges to explore, as well as a set of sensory guides that rate the level of stimulation of all water attractions to each of the five senses. Guests can then use this resource to experience water excitement in a way that feels secure and predictable.
“Parents and caregivers will now have access to sensory guides to the various locations at Water World, which inform them about aspects like noise from the facilities and screams from other visitors,” Wong details. “They will have the opportunity to start their journey in relatively less noisy areas and proceed to other exciting areas later in their trip.”
Additionally, Water World Ocean Park provides a “quiet room” for guests with sensory sensitivities who want to take a break from the stimulation. Their guest-facing staff also receives training provided by IBCCES to understand the specific needs of guests with sensory sensitivities.
If guests visiting PortAventura World in Spain have any accessibility questions, they can go to the park’s guest service office for visitors with disabilities.
“In this space we provide information on attractions, restaurants, shows, services, and the most appropriate facilities according to special needs,” says Choni Fernández, director of customer experience, sustainability, and communication at PortAventura World. “In addition, we provide tickets at a special price for those with 33% disability or more, as well as a free entrance or annual pass for people with more than 75% disability.”
The park also offers special access to rides and table reservations at restaurants without architectural barriers, as well as special menus for visitors with food intolerances.
“I believe that in order to guarantee that any person with reduced mobility can enjoy the facilities of a theme park in conditions similar to those of other visitors, it is essential to take this issue into account from the start of any project,” Fernández says. “We must change our mindset to incorporate in the conception of each project, especially in the case of attractions, the necessary requirements so that the greatest number of people with special needs can make use of them.”