Segways allow users with impaired mobility to interact with others at eye-level, as well as to be perceived as able-bodied, not disabled. As their popularity grows, however, so do the statistics on injuries associated with them. Last spring, new ADA regulations went into effect that required companies to accommodate power mobility devices like Segways, provided their use did not pose a danger to others, but safety concerns continue to restrict them from being used in many places–and Disneyland is one such place.
Tina Baughman, who has muscular dystrophy, recently lost a three-year battle for the right to use her customized Segway when visiting the Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. Baughman sued Disney in 2007 after the park barred her from using her Segway, telling her to either rent a four-wheeled scooter or a wheelchair. In 2010, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled in Disney’s favor. This ruling may have been due to a technicality.
According to the original lawsuit, Baughman never used a wheelchair, and Disney was required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to allow patrons to use a “mobility device of choice.” However, the judge noted that Baughman had had prior lawsuits–which were settled–in which she stated that she was confined to a wheelchair. The judge dismissed the claim that her attorney, prominent disabilities rights attorney David Geffen, accidentally used the language in the 2007 lawsuit that was used in other similar cases. “The court simply will not allow Ms. Baughman to play fast and loose with the facts,” the judge wrote.
In the lawsuit, Disney’s attorney, Daniel Fears, maintained that Segways are dangerous. The Segway is a two-wheeled, electric, self-balancing device that uses gyroscopes to remain upright and is controlled by the direction in which the rider leans. The rider leans in either direction he or she chooses by using a thin handlebar attached to a pole. The device can go as fast as 12 miles per hour, with no steering wheel or brakes. Fears stated that Segways should not be allowed in a crowded theme park where there are a lot of children and elderly people.
“And I need not remind the court that the owner of the company fell off a cliff on a Segway and died,” Fears stated. In September 2010, Segway company owner James Heselden died when he apparently drove a Segway off a cliff.
An indignant Geffen stated, “Just to be clear, what I heard Disneyland saying is that they want a business entity telling a person what mobility device they can use when they come to their place,” he said. “They want to be able to take away a mobility device and say, ‘You can use a wheelchair, but you must use our wheelchair. You can use a mobility device, but you must use our own mobility device at Disneyland.’ You don’t want businesses involved in that very, very personal choice of deciding what mobility device best suits somebody’s needs.”
Disneyland even offers Segway tours of its park. Despite this, Disneyworld in Orlando, FL has also prevailed in lawsuits over Segway use on its premises. In Tina Baughman’s case, wording in her claim allowed the judge to side with Disney. But as Segways grow in popularity, especially when used by veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hard to see that the public will support Disney’s decision to forbid them.