ORLANDO (AP) — Advocates for the disabled are pushing Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando to lift a ban on the use of Segways at the theme parks, saying the scooters give people who can't walk a degree of personal freedom not afforded by wheelchairs. The parks say the scooters create safety hazards, and that disabled people are welcome at the attractions, just not on Segway Personal Transporters.
"We're not turning people away," Disney World spokeswoman Kim Prunty told the Orlando Sentinel
for a story Saturday. "We're turning away a particular form of transportation."
The move to allow the two-wheeled, electric Segways at the park is coming mostly from an organization called Disability Rights Advocates for Technology, or DRAFT, which raises money to donate Segways to disabled U.S. military veterans and pushes for their acceptance.
James Nappier uses one. The 49-year-old petty officer in the Navy Reserve suffered leg and arm nerve damage in a May 2004 mortar attack in Ramadi, Iraq.
"It's been a godsend, because I can get out and get around on it," said Nappier, of Loxahatchee. "I try to take it all the places here I can."
Nappier said he has a sense of freedom on a Segway — and that standing on the upright scooter, he can look people in the eyes for the first time since he's been unable to walk.
Earlier this year, Epcot Center officials wouldn't let Nappier enter on his Segway, forcing him to use a wheelchair pushed by his wife, Lacey.
Many people who use prosthetics, and people who can stand but can't easily walk, — such as many people with multiple sclerosis — find Segways offer more mobility and dignity than wheelchairs, said DRAFT co-founder Jerry Kerr, 52.
Kerr, who suffered spinal-cord injuries in an accident and uses a Segway, estimates that at least 5,000 disabled people have purchased Segways to get around, up from a few hundred that he estimated three years ago.
Disney runs paid, guided Segway tours of Epcot and the Fort Wilderness campground, and has put many of its employees on Segways. But Disney officials said they see serious safety concerns if potentially untrained visitors are riding Segways on the same crowded walkways as toddlers, elderly persons and people with sight, hearing, mental or mobility disabilities. They say they are also concerned that Segways can go more than 12 mph, much faster than most motorized wheelchairs.
"Our concern has continued to be the safety of all our guests and cast members," said Prunty, the Disney spokeswoman.
E-mail and telephone messages left for Bedford, N.H.-based Segway by The Associated Press were not immediately returned Saturday.
SeaWorld spokeswoman Becca Bides told the Sentinel
the park had similar concerns and added that SeaWorld has thin paths and walkways of varying grades and construction, which may be ill-designed for Segways. Universal Orlando permits disabled riders on Segways on a case-by-case basis, park officials said.