I’ve been stuck on It’s A Small World (IASW) a couple times before, once for 26 minutes. Let me tell you, it was not a pleasant experience. The music never turned off while other boats were being evacuated around us. Alas, we were stuck in a bad spot and by the time they got to us, the ride had been fixed and we were allowed to finish the ride. Thankfully, this was during the holiday makeover for the ride, so there was at least a little musical variation, but it was still fairly close to intolerable after about the first 10 minutes.
Still, it never crossed my mind to sue over the experience (instead I wrote an epic poem, true story). One man who spent 40 minutes stuck on the doll filled journey, decided that a lawsuit was required. What was different in our situations, besides the additional 14 minutes, was that the man is a quadriplegic and was riding in the wheelchair accessible vehicle. He claims that other vehicles were unloaded before his was and that it was due to his status as disabled. He also claims that Disney has no proper procedure for unloading disabled in event of an emergency.
I admit I am not familiar with Disneyland’s current policies as regards the loading, unloading, or emergency evacuation of passengers (disabled or not) on various attractions. And I am not familiar with the exact wording in the manual for operations of IASW. But I have read similar manuals and policies in the past (and both the Monorail and Space Mountain manual just last month). So here’s my take.
The Americans with Disability Act puts Disney parks in a bit of hard place when it comes to accommodating disabled passengers on attractions. Disney must make an effort to accommodate wheelchair passengers where possible, but it can require that you must be able to transfer to ride certain attractions. Disney often stretches this rule by allowing you to travel with a companion who could assist you in the event of a ride evacuation. The 16 year old boy or girl who is evacuating you from the top of the Matterhorn or even it’s a small world is not capable, not should they really be asked to, lift or transfer anyone during a ride evacuation. So having a companion is important. There are a lot of stairs and narrow walkways when descending from the Matterhorn and there are a few stairs and narrow walkways when evacuating IASW too. That 16 year old has to worry about the safety of all passengers in their zone.
Now the same thing applies when being evacuated from any building with stairs. Someone in a wheelchair would require assistance being evacuated. I took a course when I worked in a skyscraper in Downtown LA and eventually earned my CERT certification. The policy the Los Angeles Fire Department and CERT program recommended was that in event of an evacuation someone be designated to wait with the disabled person on a stair landing until Fire & Rescue arrives to assist with an evacuation.
I’m sure you can see some problems with that. If the building was on fire or other immediate danger existed, I would think that the kindness of strangers and co-workers would kick in and someone would help those who could not evacuate on their own. But if it’s just a drill or a nonlethal threat, it might make more sense to wait in place rather than risk injury to the disabled or those trying to assist them. My guess is that is how Disneyland’s policy reads.
So I am very sorry that the gentleman had to wait while others evacuated ahead of him. But due to the nature of the attraction and the lack of a real emergency, remaining in place and not risking injury to him or the cast members is the action recommended by CERT and the Fire Department and hopefully by Disney as well.
No word if the gentleman had to endure the soundtrack for the entire length of his captivity. Now that would be worth a lawsuit for mental stress.