The Ninth Circuit has recently held that Disneyland must consider whether to allow disabled persons who prefer to do so use a Segway rather than a wheelchair. Baughman v. Walt Disney World Company, (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal Case No. 10-55792) Justice Alex Kozinski, wrote the opinion which reversed and remanded an order granting summary judgment for Disneyland. The decision is available here but the key discussion is as follows.
Facilities are not required to make any and all possible accommodations that would provide full and equal access to disabled patrons; they need only make accommodations that are reasonable. In deciding what’s reasonable, facilities may consider the costs of such accommodations, disruption of their business and safety. But they must also take into account evolving technology that might make it cheaper and easier to ameliorate the plight of the disabled. In the past, it might have been enough for a theme park to permit only non-powered wheelchairs. As technology made motorized wheelchairs and scooters cheaper, safer and more reliable, our expectations of what is reasonable changed—as Disney recognizes. But technological advances didn’t end with the powered wheelchair. As new devices become available, public accommodations must consider using or adapting them to help disabled guests have an experience more akin to that of non-disabled guests.
The modification Baughman seeks is entirely consistent with our caselaw. She claims that she has difficulty standing up from a seated position, so the Segway—which allows her to remain standing—makes it easier for her to visit Disneyland’s many attractions, concessions and facilities. She also claims that using a Segway allows her to be at eye-level with other guests and staff, rather than having everyone look down at her.Disneydoesn’t dispute Baughman’s claim that using a motorized wheelchair or scooter would require her to stand and sit many times during her visit, or that doing so would be painful for her. Nor that Baughman would feel more comfortable and dignified using a Segway. Disney simply takes the position that, even if Baughman’s access is made “uncomfortable or difficult” by its policies, any discomfort or difficulty she may suffer is too darn bad. Supplemental Br. of Appellee 5. Disney is obviously mistaken. If it can make Baughman’s experience less onerous and more akin to that enjoyed by its able-bodied patrons, it must take reasonable steps to do so. See Regal Cinemas, Inc., 339 F.3d at 1133.
We do not hold thatDisneymust permit Segways at its theme parks. It might be able to exclude them if it can prove that Segways can’t be operated safely in its parks. Section 36.311(b) lists several factors to consider in determining whether a device can be used in a particular facility, including the size, weight and speed of the device; the volume of pedestrian traffic in the facility; and whether legitimate safety requirements can be established to ensure safe operation of the device. § 36.311(b)(2).Disney might, for example, permissibly require Segways to travel only as fast as motorized wheelchairs. But any safety requirements Disney imposes “must be based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.301(b).
New technology presents risks as well as opportunities; we must not allow fear of the former to deprive us of the latter. We have every confidence that the organization that, half a century ago, brought us the Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln can lead the way in using new technology to make its parks more welcoming to disabled guests. As the man who started it all said, “Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world. “WaltDisney, 65, Dies on Coast; Founded an Empire on a Mouse, N.Y. Times, Dec. 16, 1966, at 40.
A WORD TO THE WISE . . .
ADA compliance is a daunting challenge as this case illustrates. Just as Disney will be tasked with balancing interests, hardships and safety concerns in determining whether to allow Segways in its facilities, businesses must consider a host of competing concerns in deciding what accommodations are reasonable. Compliance with the objective standards of the ADA and parallel state regulations is only the beginning step toward mitigating the risk of ADA litigation.