Six Flags faces lawsuit over disability policies

December 28, 2023, 3:36 PM · A California resident is suing Six Flags over its disability access policy. The plaintiff in the case, which has been filed in federal court, is seeking class action status for the case, which ultimately could affect how people with disabilities are accommodated not just at Six Flags but also at Universal and other theme parks that use the same system.

The case, I.L. v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp. and Magic Mountain LLC [1:23-at-01058], was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The unnamed plaintiff claims to be a disabled veteran who was denied access to rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain on multiple occasions, despite completing an online application for an IBCCES Accessibility Card, as required now by Six Flags.

IBCCES [International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards] is a Florida-based LLC that works with the amusement industry not just to provide disability access certification but also to designate Certified Autism Centers (which is a trademark of the IBCCES). In addition to Six Flags, Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood ask its guests to obtain a IBCCES Accessibility Card [IAC] before coming to the park if they need accommodation for disabilities.

Many fans have complained that the IBCCES process is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires venues open to the public - such as theme parks - to provide access for people with disabilities. However, many other fans have complained that able-bodied park guests are abusing accommodation services simply in order to jump queues and get out of waiting their turn in line, inflating wait times for everyone else in the park.

Parks began using the IBCCES system in order to relieve guest relations staff and park visitors from having to spend long periods of time to determine precisely what accommodations the guests need during their visit. Guests are supposed to complete an online survey in advance of visiting the park in order to get their IAC, which they then are to present at guest services upon arrival at the park to get set instructions on whatever their accommodation will be.

The lawsuit details several instances when the plaintiff was denied entry to rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain while using the park's accessibility pass. However, several of the reported instances detail what appear to be misactions by park employees - including ripping up a paper printed copy of the IAC - rather than a refusal by the park to provide accommodation as a matter of policy.

Still, the suit also alleges that the fact that Six Flags is requiring park guests to go through the IAC application process is, by itself, a violation of the ADA. If the case proceeds, that could be an interesting legal question that might affect operations not just at Six Flags, but also Universal and any other park working with IBCCES. You can read the lawsuit filing here.

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Replies (12)

December 28, 2023 at 7:55 PM

One thing that really fascinates me about the Secret Life of Pets ride at Universal Studios Hollywood is that wheelchairs can go right into the wheelchair/friendly ride vehicles! It’s probably one of the most disability-friendly rides out there.

December 28, 2023 at 11:32 PM

My only issue with that ride is that it really needed a spur to allow guests using wheelchairs to take all the time they need to wheel on/off, without stopping the entire ride circuit. That design feature should be SOP at this point for new attractions.

December 29, 2023 at 2:51 AM

There are a lot of rides that have wheelchair vehicles but do not have spurs. Jungle Cruise is probably the worst one because everyone waiting in the Fastpass line (which is right next to where they load it) just stands there and stares at the person as they are getting on/off. Buzz Lightyear is particularly awful as well because the unload belt (where they load the wheelchair) is so short that the ride constantly has to slow/stop. It also makes the ride unsafe to work as the employees (who are often young girls) have to push the big obese people in chairs on and off the ride, while its moving, trying to race the belt so they don't have to stop the ride constantly...and then add the fact that industrial engineering gives out a bajillion Fastpasses for it because its a really high capacity ride with no height requirement, and it gets tons of DAS for the same reason, so every time it stops it royally screws everything up...and also there's the issue of the vehicles not closing themself and the operator on the other side having to manually close every one as it goes by which is terrible for your arm/shoulder.

That also brings up one of the major issues with MK which is that they obviously have the most disabled people on the busiest days, and at the busiest times of day, which means the rides are constantly stopping and having issues at the worst possible times. But that's a whole other discussion for another day.

On a more related note I read through that entire lawsuit and from what I saw:

He visited the park in June, July, September, November, December, and then next November, and didn't use the disability pass on his last three visits as he figured it wasn't worth the risk of having issues with employees.

-Most of the text was about how they issue a card through the contractor should not be legal.

-An employee (at an unnamed ride) told him he didn't look disabled and ripped his card and handed it back to him. He went to GR to complain and they told him they couldn't do anything they had to email the corporate office, which he did, but they never emailed him back.

-One very vague complaint about not being allowed to use it at Justice League, where the employee said he did not look disabled and she didn't know what to do with the card. She ended up sending him to GR where he went and the GR manager told him he didn't look disabled and said he was lucky they didn't take his season pass away from him.

-Another very vague complaint about the employees at another ride (that was not named) not letting him use the pass.

OK I have zero inside knowledge of this situation, but after reading through the full text of the lawsuit several times, i'm going to make an assumption (based off decades of working at parks) that they had a documented history of dealing with this guy and that they believed he was abusing the system so they purposely tried to get him to not use the pass anymore (or not visit anymore). When someone tells you "there's nothing I can do, write a letter," especially to a disabled person, that basically means we have our butts covered and GTFO.

...I could be wrong of course. But the story in his lawsuit just makes me think that's what happened.

December 29, 2023 at 5:03 AM

Based on skimming through the lawsuit, this sounds more like the guest encountered procedural errors due to improperly trained employees than the guest was discriminated against through an unfair and illegal policy. As such, he would maybe have a case against SFMM specifically, but I think trying to go after the entirety of Six Flags in a class action over their policy is probably going to fail. From what I understand (which comes from friends with disabilities but may or may not be wholly accurate), part of the reason the IBCCES pass isn't a violation of ADA is because it is not required to utilize an alternate entrance to an attraction and is only required for guests who are unable to physically wait in the queue or at the exit to board. As these types of passes allow for a guest to experience more attractions in the same time period than someone without the pass could experience, they're considered to provide better access than that enjoyed by other individuals and thus requiring proof of need is not a violation of ADA. Essentially, it's legal to say "You need to prove you can't wait in line for 30 minutes before we give you a pass that will let you board immediately," because you're not denying equal access but only preferential accommodation, but would be illegal to say "You need to prove that you can't climb stairs before we'll let you use the exit ramp instead," as someone who couldn't climb stairs would then be excluded from the experience entirely.

December 29, 2023 at 8:39 AM

Too many BS law suits in the country. Sorry but many are just someone trying to get rich or famous or even infamous.

Theme parks try their best to accommodate everyone, but sometimes it just can't be done. Someone gets mad because they have a prosthetic leg and can't ride HULK.. SO don't go on Hulk or visit that park...

Going on a Ride is not a born right.

I have Gerd and can't have certain foods, but I am not suing every company that makes spicy or acidic foods...

December 29, 2023 at 9:14 AM

AJ has it right there's no discrimination here. No one is saying he can't wait in line! This pass is essentially a free express pass but even better cause you skip the express line too. So yes they definitely need to make sure the people using it actually need it. I have no problem theme parks giving out those passes to people who actually can't stand in line. I really hope this lawsuit gets thrown out right away because theme parks are probably trying the hardest to make everyone feel welcomed. If you don't like applying for a pass then wait in line like everyone else!

December 29, 2023 at 11:29 AM

After reading these comments, it is apparent that many don't understand the "you don't look disabled" comments are more common than they think. For many of us, we don't "LOOK" disabled, but I would gladly trade places with those that sit in judgement. Does the cancer patient who is on maintenance treatments always look "disabled" ??? Or the Lupus patient who just wants to enjoy a few rides before the pain and exhaustion becomes too much to bare. I personally have not had issues with my DAS at Disney, but that wasn't the case for our youngest while riding at Universal Orlando...we allowed him to go ride with a friend, while we ordered food. When they came back it was actually his friend who told us what happened because our son was too embarrassed. The ride operator stopped and questioned him, in front of other park guests...she wanted him to explain to her his disability and why he was given a GAP pass. This was not only a violation of Universal policy (which was handled professionally) but it also made my son discuss personal information that even his best friend had no knowledge of. Our son has neurocardiogenic syncope, and I'm sure anyone looking at him would think he was a normal kid...but that "normal" kid missed out on outdoor sports and school functions because of his condition. It is a shame, that in 2023, we still have people making judgements on outward appearances, and making ableist comments.

December 29, 2023 at 11:50 AM

I have to agree that asking a disabled guest to pre register with a specific group before providing accommodations is discrimination. Disability is a fact of who you are and what your needs are not a matter of registration, especially to what looks like a private body, and this extra step is not required of others.

The idea of giving some private body sensitive data to simply be recognised as disabled alarms me greatly. Especially in an era where no data is safe, and minimising how much data you put out there is the best protection you have.

That said, if disability accomodations are being abused, I would argue that its because the wrong accomodations are being provided.

A disability should not be a straight "go to the front of the queue" pass, if that's what is being provided, then that is effectively still discrimination. Instead the question should be asked "what accommodations do you need" If that means someone who cannot physically wait in a queue is held instead in a waiting room or given a return time to come back after an equivalent wait, thats an equitable outcome; and if you can stand in a line then its not unreasonable to expect you to stand in the line.

December 29, 2023 at 12:10 PM

Thank you @austingirl, very well said. Unfortunately the internet is where boors, racists and ableists still feel emboldened to spout that stuff.

December 29, 2023 at 12:28 PM

To be clear I do feel its inappropriate for ride operators to be asking those questions. If they have the pass then they should assume they went through the correct procedures to get it. I didn't explain myself correctly before and I only met the case should be thrown out if the complaint only deals with having to apply for the pass. The comments he got and them accusing him of abusing the system because he doesn't look disabled is absolutely wrong.

Either way there is clearly more training needed for all staff when dealing with situations like this!

December 29, 2023 at 1:58 PM

Everyone is just making an assumption that the employees are just ignorant teenagers that don't know what they are doing. That's entirely possible, however once again i'm going to play devils advocate.

The fact that one of the employees tore the pass and told him to go to GR if he had a problem, and the fact that a GR manager told him there's nothing they could do and write a letter if he didn't like it, and the fact that Six Flags didn't respond, indicates to me that there's more to this story than the lawsuit alleges.

I've worked with plenty of a**hat teenagers at parks over the years and never ever seen or heard of someone arbitrarily tear up a disability pass. The ride ops get disability passes all day every day, it is drilled into their head from the moment they work for that they are not allowed to question someone's disability. I think its entirely possible that the GR management sent out a memo to all the parks ops supervisors saying "if this person comes to your ride with a disability pass please take it away. We have already spoken to him." Its fully possible that the person working at the ride recognized it was him, got the assistance of a lead, and the lead disposed of it. It's also fully possible that other ride ops did not know about that, or did not realize it was him, and he was able to use it at other attractions before that.

Once again of course I could be wrong but once again somethings just not adding up with this story. When a GR manager explicitly tells someone "you're lucky we are not taking away your season pass" they know who the person is and they are fed up with him. And a non response from his letter is usually an indication of "please just go away" or "if you don't like it sue us."

December 29, 2023 at 3:50 PM

It's not possible to make everybody, able-bodied and non, happy at the same time. That's a given. So, in the interest of peace, I propose one day a month being accessibility day. On that day, only people who have passed a vetting process, and their support person, can enter the park. Since everyone has equal need to accessibility services, everyone waits in the same line. On all other days there is no provision for accessibility services. Yeah, it's stupid, but it can't be any more divisive than the current system.

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