Federal Appeals Court Reinstates ADA Lawsuit Against Disney Over Segway Use

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a lawsuit against Walt Disney World Company that alleges the company violated the ADA by refusing to allow a theme park patron to use a “Segway.” The Plaintiff, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, claims that Disney unfairly discriminated against her when the company denied her request to use her Segway at Disneyland. The park’s policies allow patrons to use wheelchairs and motorized scooters, but prohibit two wheeled vehicles, which would include Segways.

The California district court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim finding that the use of a Segway was not a necessary accommodation under the ADA because she could still use a wheelchair or scooter to address her mobility limitations.  The Appeals Court reversed and reinstated the case holding that the Plaintiff’s requested accommodation was consistent with the goals and requirements of the ADA.  The Court, however, did hold that Disney could still prevail if it proved that the requested accommodation (i.e. the use of a Segway) posed a safety risk.

This case underscores the necessity for public accommodations (i.e. businesses that offer goods and services to the public) to ensure that any policy that limits or prohibits a disability accommodation is supportable by a compelling justification such as health or safety.  This is particularly true where changing technology may necessitate modifying (or at least revisiting) existing policies.  Even where restrictions are necessary for health or safety reasons, businesses must continue to evaluate whether lesser or interim accommodations are possible to reduce the impact on disabled patrons.

The case is Baughman v. Walt Disney World Company, Case No. 10-55792, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. July 18, 2012).

Ed. Note:  The accompanying picture shows a Segway in case anyone is unfamiliar with the vehicle.

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