Girl born without hands denied theme park rides

Posted Thursday, February 2, 2012 10:56 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Katie Champagne was humiliated last week when ride attendants at SeaWorld Orlando made her get off Kraken, one of the park's most popular roller coasters, because she was born without hands. In December, Universal employees stopped the Michigan teen from going on the Harry Potter ride. Experts say physical requirements are reasonable given exposure to lawsuits.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

Thursday, February 2, 2012 8:42 PM

The Harry Potter ride would easily have the trickiest evacuation ever. I can't even imagine what that would involve, but being able to hold on to something while in a strange position is, I suspect, part of the requirement.

And a number of posts above collectively make what I'd say is a fair assumption. While we can assume her abilities are well developed, a minimum wage ride op certainly can't make that call, nor can the park have any extensive life history to rely on. Doctors can't vouch for her ability because they don't have expertise with ride systems. At the end of the day, the only safe standard is for a ride manufacturer to know that they've designed restraints and evacuation systems for certain bodily proportions, and if a person doesn't fit those proportions, there is risk in allowing them to ride.

While I freely admit that this situation sucks, I don't like the nefarious undertones that often come with the problem. People don't sit around thinking about how they can screw someone with a physical handicap.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012 10:39 PM

Especially when said person is a paying customer.

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Friday, February 3, 2012 12:55 PM

I wouldn't say that walking down "residental stairs" is easy. There's a small section for stairs and handrails in the International Building Code. It dictates alot of things, ie. step height/ width and handrails. But, most of the handrail codes have pretty of exceptions for homes. One is that a grab bars aren't required. Main point of the building code ensures that all stairs are very similar.

At my point is that she has probably dealt with a handful of stairs in her life. And they shouldn't have been any different than normal stairs.

But, I think a sticking point is what if the train valleys?

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Friday, February 3, 2012 1:54 PM

I think some of you are missing the point. It isn't about 'stairs' or her ability to walk up or down stairs. It's her ability to evacuate from a roller coaster.

I doubt she has much experience with it. Heck, I don't have any experience with it and I've been on a few hundred of them. Thousands of times.

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Friday, February 3, 2012 2:37 PM

Then maybe no one should be able to ride a coaster unless they have experience actually evacuating it (or at least a similar one). :)

If being able to evacuate is the issue, why, as someone else noted, do they let people in wheelchairs ride who likely would not be able to evacuate unassisted?

She probably has been told all of her life that she can't do this, can't do that, etc. People telling her that were not trying to be mean. They were trying to protect her. But she likely has proven many of those folks wrong during her life. The park isn't trying to be mean in this case. Just trying to protect her (and others like her) and itself as well in terms of litigation, bad PR, etc. That she has proved others wrong in the past doesn't mean though that she could (or should be even get the chance to try) in this case.

It would be interesting to know if anyone with knowledge of all if the issues involved actually spent a little time talking with her about them. Issues may be ones that she has never thought about or considered.

Last edited by GoBucks89, Friday, February 3, 2012 2:38 PM
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Friday, February 3, 2012 7:52 PM

Wheel chair does not equal lost limbs.

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Friday, February 3, 2012 9:07 PM

No but it also likely means a lack of ability to evacuate a coaster without assistance.

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Friday, February 3, 2012 9:33 PM

Well, according to the video segment the dad "understands" the safety concerns and he wouldn't put his kid on a ride where she wouldn't be safe.

So.....what's the issue? I feel horrible for the girl and realize that it's out of her control (or her parents for that matter) but there are just things in life that some people can't do; we all have limitations (visible and non-visible) that prevent us from doing things that others can. I can't play sports to save the life of me! But I don't whine to society or make a stink about it in front of a camera that the NBA or NFL needs to be sued because I have and understand my limitations that prevent me from participating in such a task. This situation is no different.

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Friday, February 3, 2012 10:16 PM

I think they are different. The NBA and NFL aren't drawing lines. If you can play, you will play. If you can't, you won't. Evaluations are done on a player by player basis. As already noted, the park needs to draw lines and can't evaluate on a case by case basis.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012 2:38 AM

Reading the article, it seems to me there is a clear policy in place who and with what physical conditions may and may not ride. It's not one of those cases where the parent of the two year old can argue that their tyke was allowed on the same ride last week and this week he's not. This is not something that can be argued with emotion-- poor girl, hasn't she suffered enough already? Look at these mean people humiliating her telling her one more thing she can't do.

Her attorney and her family could argue all day long that she should be able to ride because she can do a, b, or c, but has she ridden a ride like this before? That is the only thing that counts. All those other abilities do not translate into being able to ride.

Why couldn't the girl and her family do some research before hand to determine if there was a policy in place and how it would affect her? IMO, a lot of these "public humiliation" cases are the result of the humiliated party continuing to push the issue-- an issue which was probably avoidable in the first place. It sounds like there are rules in place, but this girl and attorney happen not to like them. I don't see how they could, or should be changed because of her experience.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012 10:27 AM

RatherGoodBear said:
Why couldn't the girl and her family do some research before hand to determine if there was a policy in place and how it would affect her?

Isn't that always the case? You would think that if you had a child with some sort of physical (or other) disability, that you would be get into a habit or checking restrictions at various places you visit, especially when doing a big vacation to Orlando.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012 11:48 AM

GoBucks89 said:
No but it also likely means a lack of ability to evacuate a coaster without assistance.

It's not the same thing dude. And not everyone in a wheel chair is going to be allowed to ride. Obviously someone in a wheel chair with no hand would be allowed to ride. My point was that just because someone is in a wheel chair does not automatically mean they will or won't be able to ride but you seem to be acting like a wheel chaired person can ride, why is that different from her. Just being in a wheel chair doesn't mean some one can or can't ride.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012 12:03 PM

"Katie's attorney, Richard Bernstein, said she should have been able to ride because she is capable of holding onto the harness with her upper extremities even though she doesn't have hands."

You're sued when someone is injured, and you're sued trying to keep someone from being injured... It's a 'win-win' situation for lawyers.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012 3:00 PM

jonnytips said:

RatherGoodBear said:
Why couldn't the girl and her family do some research before hand to determine if there was a policy in place and how it would affect her?

Isn't that always the case? You would think that if you had a child with some sort of physical (or other) disability, that you would be get into a habit or checking restrictions at various places you visit, especially when doing a big vacation to Orlando.

Heck, when my daughter was younger, I would always do research on height restrictions to see what she could and couldn't ride. With that research, we decided not take her to the Busch parks until she was 54" because we didn't feel like it wasn't worth the price of admission for her till she could ride everything.

Having said that though, we are park/coaster enthusiasts, so that is something of significance to us. People who are planning a family vacation who don't frequent parks, probably don't think of doing such research. Unfortunately for these people, this is where they run into problems.

I was actually surprised (and enjoyed) reading an article that basically slammed lawyers and frivolous lawsuits for once.

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Monday, February 6, 2012 2:54 PM

The Americans with Disabilities Act might as well have been called the Attorneys Full Employment Act...

Here's my take on this:

Clearly this is a reaction to a previous incident at another park.

But if the policy says the rider needs to be able to "hold on to the shoulder restraint" I question what that really means. For instance, when I ride a B&M coaster with a shoulder bar (such as Kraken), I hold on to the shoulder bar, but I do not...in fact can not...use my hands to do so. I typically put my forearms through the grab loops on the shoulder bar so that I can stabilize my upper body and thus protect my ears.

In this particular case, if it had been my call, I'd have let her ride.

I think the ride operator did the right thing in denying her a ride, but I am surprised that ride operations did not evaluate her situation and reverse the decision. Or maybe there's more to the story.......

In my opinion, in a situation like this, the ride operator's response should be, "I'm sorry but I don't feel that we can safely allow you to ride." But the ride operator should then tell the person to contact the ride operations supervisor (or whoever is further up the food chain) to see if, in the opinion of someone who theoretically understands the rationale behind policy better than the operator does, the situation warrants an exception. For the ride operator to make a policy-based but incorrect decision to deny a ride is a whole lot easier to fix than for the operator to allow a ride that results in an incident. See "Hackemer, James, SSgt.".

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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