Walt Disney World wins dismissal of Segway disability suit

Posted Thursday, October 8, 2009 10:35 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Walt Disney Co. won dismissal of a lawsuit claiming a ban on personal two-wheel transporters at its facilities violates federal disabilities laws. U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell in Orlando yesterday voided an earlier decision granting preliminary approval to the settlement and threw out the case. The plaintiffs, who are all able to use wheelchairs or scooters, failed to show that Segways were “necessary” to access the park, Presnell said in the decision.

Read more from Bloomberg.

Thursday, October 8, 2009 10:40 AM

Awesome. The judge pretty much used the same rationale people did here in our last story about this. Where do you draw the line? Should guests be entitled to SUV's and helicopters as well?

Segways in crowds without governors driven by people who aren't experienced using them is a recipe for catastrophic injury.

Thursday, October 8, 2009 11:06 AM

I echo Jeff's comments, and add a HUGE THANK GOD!

Thursday, October 8, 2009 11:24 AM

Scooters are bad enough in crowded situations.

Anyway, forgive me if I'm being less than sensitive, but if you can ride a Segway, you can probably get around by foot. They require more physical ability than a scooter for sure.

Last edited by janfrederick, Friday, October 9, 2009 11:42 AM
Thursday, October 8, 2009 3:34 PM

That's the thing I don't get either. I've done the Segway tour at Epcot, ironically enough, and your legs will hurt when you're done if you're not used to it. If there was any disability that interfered with walking, I can't see how this device would ever help you.

Friday, October 9, 2009 3:18 PM

This may help shed some light on why DRAFT feels it was a victory for the disabled.

Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (DRAFT) Press Release

Judge Opens Door to a Remedy for Disabled
Disability Rights Advocates Vow to Pursue Open Policy for Segways

Contact: Chris Black
Tel: 202 333 3853
Mobile: 202 302 4748

ORLANDO, FL. – In a striking victory for the disabled, a federal District Court judge tossed out a proposed settlement which would have banned personal Segway use forever in all Disney properties in the United States.

``This is a victory for disability rights and we are heartened by the court’s findings,’’ said Jerry Kerr, President of Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (www.draft.org), the non-profit organization which organized opposition to the proposed ban. ``But Disney’s policy on Segways still stands. We call on the Walt Disney Company to voluntarily change its policy and recognize the rights of disabled people to use the assistive device which best meets their needs.’’

US District Judge Gregory A. Presnell tossed out the proposed settlement after four months of deliberation after holding a two-day fairness hearing on the proposed ban last June. DRAFT members and disabled war veterans were among those who testified against the settlement. In addition, the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department and 23 state Attorneys General filed friend of the court briefs objecting to the settlement.

DRAFT did not bring the original law suit against the Walt Disney Company. DRAFT got involved when the original three plaintiffs agreed to a settlement which would have banned all personal Segway use in perpetuity in all Disney properties. Disney uses Segways for its own employees and for paid Segway tours for park visitors but banned the use of private Segways ostensibly for safety reasons.

The Segway has found a loyal following among many disabled people. DRAFT has presented more than 350 Segways to military service members who suffered disabling injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last three years. One of those recipients, Major Daniel Gade, a former member of the White House domestic policy staff who lost a leg in combat, testified at the fairness hearing.

Judge Presnell said the section of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act cited by the original plaintiffs was not sufficiently broad enough to expressly allow Segways but in his opinion he recognized that the important psychological advantages of a disabled person using a Segway which allows a user to stand upright instead of a wheelchair.

``This case is not about necessary accommodation,’’ said the ruling. `` The real question, it seems, is the extent to which the ADA can (or should) promote equal treatment and human dignity by requiring acceptance of new technologies. As Major Gade and others testified, the Segway is quickly changing the way disabled Americans are perceived and treated in our society. The importance of this interest simply cannot be overlooked.’’

Judge Presnell left open the possibility that another law suit or action by another branch of government might be sufficient to overturn the Disney ban. The Justice Department is working on regulations which are expected to classify the Segway as a legitimate assistive device when used by the disabled to improve their mobility.

David Ferleger, lead counsel for DRAFT and a legal advocate for the disabled for more than 35 years, said the original lawsuit contained fatal flaws which could be addressed in another legal action.

``It is gratifying to see the court recognize the tremendous importance of technology to people with disabilities and to recognize that federal law specifically protects the dignity of disabled people,’’ said Ferleger.

David Ferlenger, the ADA counsel, can be reached at: Office 215 887 0123
Mobile: 215 498 1777

Friday, October 9, 2009 3:23 PM

That still doesn't help me to understand why a wheelchair is not suitable for their disabilities. I can understand they want to look as normal as possible, but I don't think trumps the need for a safe midway.

Friday, October 9, 2009 4:54 PM

This is the second best outcome. The best would've been the court finding in Disney's favor and setting legal precedent for a park operator's right to restrict the devices the disabled may use on their property. Between the ADA and our courts this all getting out of control.

Sunday, October 11, 2009 3:04 AM

Expert_Glider said:
This may help shed some light on why DRAFT feels it was a victory for the disabled.

That thing has more spin on it than a ride on the Tea Cups. They know the only way to win now is for Disney to change it's position, and it won't, and god, I hope it doesn't ever, for my safety and those around me...

Sunday, October 11, 2009 10:53 AM

I just got home from two weeks at Walt Disney World and the scooters and strollers were bad enough. If guests start tooling around the parks on Segways I can't imagine how many people are going to get hurt.

Electric scooters are rented by the HUNDREDS by local mobility companies. If Walt Disney World allows guests to use Segways they'll start renting them, too, and the parks will be FLOODED with them.

Monday, October 12, 2009 7:00 AM

egieszl said:

Between the ADA and our courts this all getting out of control.

I don't think you can really pin this on the ADA. The act only demands "reasonable access" for people with disabilities, which is a long ways from "people with disabilities should be able to drive their Hummer through the park if they want." In fact, lawyers and the court system have actually gone to great lengths to weaken the ADA, to the point where many people who should be protected by it can still be discriminated against.

That being said, outlawing Segways at the parks is definitely the right call. Electric wheelchairs (along with strollers and wagons) can be dangerous enough.

Monday, October 12, 2009 7:40 AM

Chris, can I play devil's advocate for a sec here?

You talk about outlawing Segways in parks, but what about tham as a tool for, say, security or maintance? I can see how'd they be a useful tool, especally in a park as big as CP.

Monday, October 12, 2009 7:44 AM

Perhaps I should have phrased it as giving the parks the ability to make their own choice? Sure, if they want to have their own staff (who they've hopefully trained on how to drive those things through crowds) drive them around, then have at it. Having any guest, who may or may not have a clue as to what they're doing, come in with one is what creates the safety hazard.

Monday, October 12, 2009 8:40 AM

That works. Now I see what you're driving at. You're against UNTRAINED operators using Segways in parks?

So, if I understand you correctly, you want to see employers train people on Segways the same way they would a forklift or any other piece of heavy equipment, right?

Monday, October 12, 2009 8:50 AM

The cast members at the Disney parks that use Segways are not only riding units that have been speed-limited but they've also gone through training on how to safely use them.

I am okay with this because it's limited to trained staff only. No, it's not a rigorous, week long training or anything, but they have been taught how to safely use the vehicle.

In large crowds Segways can be quite dangerous. I would not want ANYONE using one in a park unless they've gone through a standardized safety course. Even then having more than a few tooling around would be bad.

After the displays of flagrant disregard for other people that I witnessed on my recent WDW trip I wouldn't trust ANYONE to use one in a park. People on vacation are often of the mindset that they're the only ones on vacation and everyone else be damned.

Should Segways in parks be "outlawed?" Hell no. It should not be made illegal- there are much more important things to legislate. But the first park official at any park that decides that allowing park guests to use Segways is a good idea should be punched in the face. It will lead to a flood of them in parks because companies like the Orlando mobility companies will rent them by the dozens and people will use them because they're lazy.

Last edited by robotfactory, Monday, October 12, 2009 8:53 AM
Monday, October 12, 2009 10:22 AM

I think you really nail the core of the problem. People walking at the parks aren't even aware of their surroundings. I've been tagged by people in the scooters plenty of times too (I'd love to know how many don't actually use them in their regular daily lives).

The spirit of ADA, and indeed the interpretation of this court, is that it should ensure access to public places for disabled folks. Prohibiting Segways does not deny this access, and this is the right decision.

Monday, October 12, 2009 3:02 PM

Jeff is right. Nobody is being denied access, just one method of access is not being allowed. There are still other permitted means for the disabled to travel the parks.

I wonder whether any of the advocacy groups would accept a system that would allow Segways to be used by the public, but would also require releasing the park from any responsibility should any accidents occur involving a privately owned Segway. I doubt it. And I'm sure no park wants the liability involved over a situation in which it has no control. How long would it be until a park gets sued by some bystanders who get run over by someone who brought their Segway to the park? By allowing their use, of course it's the park, not Mr. or Ms. Bad Driver who gets sued.

Monday, October 12, 2009 11:41 PM

robotfactory, not everyone who uses a scooter at a park is "lazy" Some people, like my mother for example, wouldn't be able to get around a large park all day without one. My Mom wont even consider going unless she has one, or I push her around in her wheelchair. She can walk and stand for a while, but too much walking and standing makes her want to go home.

Although I can't imagine a whole park with scooters and Segways crashing into each other all day either. We'd need a center line in the middle of each walkway.

Scooters serve their purpose. I'm sure some people abuse the use of them, but to others, they are necessary.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 12:59 AM

LK, he wasn't talking about using scooters, he was talking about using Segways. I'm assuming that not everyone who owns or uses a Segway is mobility-challenged. There are probably many able-bodied people who would want to use them in parks just to get around more quickly. Would the companies renting them make that distinction?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 7:41 AM

robotfactory said:
But the first park official at any park that decides that allowing park guests to use Segways is a good idea should be punched in the face.

Apparently they're allowed at CP, because I saw a guest driving around on one two weekends ago. His kid was riding on it with him, which I'm pretty sure is a big no-no in the Segway operators manual.


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