Segway Madness Resolved

5 04 2011

There is one specific issue that can cause a lot of headaches for any business, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA from here on), which lays out ground rules for making businesses handicap accessible for both their employees and consumers. Now, I say headache not because of the sensible things that the ADA lays out, but because of some of the absolutely ridiculous things that have involved the ADA; such as lawsuits and rather interesting, if not concerning, rule revisions. One such revision was recently made to the ADA’s rules regarding what can be considered a wheelchair/assistive device, specifically about Segways and their use in theme parks.

For a quick bit of background on all of this and to save you from the tiresomely long essay that would be sure to follow on all the legal mumbo-jumbo involved, I will simply refer you to an excellent article on the DIS Unplugged Blog, which contains links to relevant cases and facts as well as a link to the ADA revision (which will also be directly linked at the end of this post). If you have not yet guessed how I feel about the revision and the idea of using Segways in parks such as Disney or Universal from the tone of the writing so far, I find the idea of using a Segway as an assistive device in crowded theme parks rather untenable. To explain a bit better why I feel that way, here is a post I have made elsewhere on the issue.

“From personal experience, I can tell you that properly controlling a Segway requires both very good driving skill-sets (alertness, quick reactions, good sight, etc.), and understanding of your body’s balance and solid control of your muscle movements. While controlling a Segway is not necessarily physically demanding (you won’t be sweating like you were doing a workout), it does require very good muscle control and some balance. The Segway does not do all the work for you, you have to understand how your movements affect its reactions. Also, just like a vehicle, it will not stop immediately. It can stop in a very short distance, but you will not stop in time to avoid someone not watching where they are walking that would step out less than 5ft. in front of you unless you are moving slower than you would walk on the Segway.

Simply put, these things are not intended for use, and should absolutely not be used by anyone, regardless of training and familiarity with it, in any kind of significant crowd. In addition, I find it very hard to believe that in all but a few very special cases, a Segway would be a suitable transportation option for a disabled person. That view comes from operational experience with Segways, not simply a general opinion based on what I’ve heard. Regardless, use of a Segway in any significant crowd is, in my view, a safety issue waiting to happen and irresponsible.*

*I have heard and partially recognize the validity of the whole psychological aspect of being forced to be at a lower height than everyone else as a disabled person. However, I consider the safety of many to be of greater concern than elevating someone so they can feel good about themselves. I will not accept that argument in the Segway discussion, or similar device discussions.”

Just yesterday there was some progress made on the issue, and thankfully it seems that someone in the courts actually understands the issue. As this new article on the DIS Unplugged Blog states:

“The Justice Department also had argued that Walt Disney World could not adhere to a “blanket ban on Segways at all Disney properties” because Disney’s safety concerns were “bland and unsupported.” Judge Presnell disagreed, saying: “Disney would likely be able to maintain its ban on Segways in light of its legitimate safety concerns. Specifically, the evidence at the fairness hearing supports Disney’s position that unrestricted Segway use poses significant safety risks because Segways cannot be operated in accordance with Disney’s legitimate safety requirements.”

So it seems that, at least for now, common sense and safety have prevailed in the consideration of this issue. For everyone’s safety, hopefully that continues to be the case, as I’m sure this will be brought up again/appealed and make its way up the court ladder.

Articles and Links:
ADA Revision
Initial DIS article
Followup DIS article




33 responses

2 05 2011
Patrick McNamara

As a disabled retired physician who uses a Segway because of back pain, and cannot tolerate vibration to my lower back from sitting in a bouncing chair (like a wheelchair or scooter and most cars), I was denied access to Disney World and was unable to see my son play in a baseball tournament at their sports facility. This was a terrible blow to me.
The comments about the skill required to use a Segway are wrong and there are some great videos of quadraplegics freed from their wheelchairs on You Tube to open closed minds.
The comments on the psychologic aspects of using a Segway v. being confined to a wheelchair are not merely wrong, but are bigoted IMHO. There is a great value in being treated like a human being v. an impediment. This fact becomes apparent after one has been nearly run over several times, deliberately, by cars while using a scooter v. having many people come up and start a pleasant conversation when using a Segway. I am terribly isolated by my disability, and the chance to converse with someone at the store is vital (prisoners are punished by placing them in solitary confinement to deny them such human contact). I have used my Segway in crowded malls at Christmas with no problems ever, except once last Summer, when bigoted security guards humiliated me publicly and forced me to leave (they have all been forced to apologize to me in person and I used the meeting to demonstrate the safety, agility, and stability of the Segway to them-tehy all said they had no idea and were quite amazied.)
Though I practiced Medicine for more than 20 years, I never even thought of recommending a disabled patient try a Segway and it was only my desperation after becoming disabled, and after trying scooters and electric wheelchairs and finding they caused me overwhelming pain, and only marginally improved my mobility, that I thought of trying a Segway. On a Segway, I am not disabled – everyone else seems to be. I am much safer to others on a Segway than walking with my cane. The Segways tires are low pressure and the device weighs but 105 lbs. Compare having your foot run over by a wheelchair with rider, with its narrow hard wheels v. the Segway with rider with its broad and cushy wheels. The wheelchair will crush toes, the Segway may not even hurt.
There is no safety issue. The Segway ban is about the power to dominate others. Those who wish to dominate the disabled are the real cripples.

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