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What's the future of theme park ride design for visitors with disabilities?

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Published: December 1, 2013 at 12:39 PM

I’m very curious about what the future of theme parks will be for the disabled. Are the new rides going to be more accessible or less? Looking at the new rides and the ones that are being built or shown in concept art will give a clue about the future.

Mystic Manor ride vehicle
The "traditional" Mystic Manor ride vehicle. Photo courtesy Disney

Let’s start with the most recent additions. Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor has a special vehicle that has space for a wheelchair to fit inside. On the other hand, the Antarctica ride at SeaWorld Orlando uses the same kind of trackless ride vehicle technology, but they don’t have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. You must transfer into the vehicle's seat.

Now let’s see the rides that are under construction.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom is a coaster, so there needs to be a transfer; I have seen a picture of the train, and it has a very narrow space to get into the seats. If Disney doesn’t add a special row where the side can be removed for transferring, that ride will be off limits to people like me who needs to transfer with no obstacles between the wheelchair and the vehicle’s seat. I haven’t seen any picture of the Gringotts’ coaster vehicle at Universal Studios Florida, but looking at the concept art, the side opening looks wider.

Avatar’s concept art shows some promise for wheelchair users; if the boat ride doesn’t have any drops, it will be wheelchair accessible. If the other ride is like Soarin', it will be an easy transfer.

I haven’t seen much from the Ratatouille ride at Walt Disney Studios Paris, but it looks like it will have the same kind of access like Mystic Manor.

The theme park future for the disabled in America looks so-so; Americans prefer thrill rides (the two coasters mentioned above is an example), and for a disabled, thrill equates to transferring. But this can be balanced with creative ways to make that transfer easier. We will see.

Readers' Opinions

From Jorge Arnoldson on December 1, 2013 at 4:55 PM
It's awesome that theme parks are ADA compliant when it comes to almost everything, but Disney should bring back their old Guest Assistance Cards. Sure, they had to prevent people from abusing it, but think about the people with autism, Down syndrome, etc. that genuinely need it. I'm still boycotting Disney Parks and Resorts until positive changes are made.
From Anthony Murphy on December 1, 2013 at 9:44 PM
Interesting concept. I wonder about the new rides lately because they have had pretty specialized seats. Without being too insensitive, I would like to know your views on the Tower of Terror. My grandmother, who is in a wheelchair, got on that ride. It was really her only thrill ride!
From Daniel Etcheberry on December 2, 2013 at 8:57 AM
Anthony, I haven't ridden ToT since I was left in a wheelchair. I should ride it again some day.
From Joseph Machado on December 4, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Very well written article. I agree 100% that making attractions accessible to everyone a goal that always needs to be kept in mind. There is a fine line that needs to be walked between accessibility and keeping the riders safe. I feel like with new technology coming out there will only become more and better ways to provide accessibility such as alternative loading platforms built into ride systems to allow for more accessibility while keeping the ride safe and always moving. With a focus on new thrilling effects the industry has to keep accessibility in mind. I hope the future is bight so everyone can enjoy these amazing works of engineering and creativity.

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