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Disabled visitors upset they can't use Segways at Disney

By Associated Press
Published February 8, 2004

ORLANDO - The last time Doug Exum went to Walt Disney World, he rented an electric scooter to get around its four theme parks. But he tired of sitting and paying $200 for the device.

The next time the 42-year-old computer programmer from Plano, Texas, returns, he wants to bring his Segway, which allows him to stand up as he scoots about on its platform and battery-operated two wheels.

There's only one problem: Disney World doesn't allow visitors, even those with disabilities, to use the self-balancing transportation machines.

The policy has angered some Segway owners with disabilities and has surprised others because the Disney parks have a reputation for accommodating the disabled. They say even some Disney employees use Segways, which are becoming increasingly popular with people who otherwise would have to use wheelchairs.

"I'm not prepared to let a corporate attorney dictate to me how I should be mobile," said Exum, who is technically quadriplegic from an injury as a teenager but functions as a paraplegic.

Disney World doesn't allow the Segways into the parks because they haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as medical devices, park spokeswoman Jacquee Polak said.

"Basically, it's difficult to accommodate two-wheeled vehicles," she said.

Disney World traditionally has been very sensitive to the needs of the disabled. The resort has wheelchair-friendly swimming pools, audio devices for the visually impaired and a hot line for people with disabilities to call for information. People with walking problems can use wheelchairs or scooters in the parks.

But Meredy Jenkins, a 55-year-old graphic designer from Orlando who has multiple sclerosis, said many people don't want to use wheelchairs or scooters because they have to sit.

"Most people I know aren't ready to sit down. It's an insult," she said.

Disney World isn't the only place to restrict the use of Segways. They're also prohibited at Disney's parks in California: Disneyland and California Adventure. Sea World Orlando says it doesn't allow them for safety reasons.

Orlando's other major theme park, Universal Orlando, doesn't have a policy. Jerry Miller, a 55-year-old retired state trooper from Indiana who has Parkinson's disease, recently went to Universal on his Segway without any problems.

"If I had to spend all day in a chair at the theme park, I would be a mess," Miller said.

The Segway was built as a pollution-free mode to zip around. The machine travels at about 12 mph and cost less than $5,000.

The first Segway, also known as Ginger or IT, was unveiled with great fanfare in 2001 by inventor Dean Kamen, who boasted it would displace cars as the transportation choice for urban centers. The company has sold more than 6,000.

Since they became available to the public in November 2002, Segways have found a growing niche among people with neurological ailments who find it difficult to walk. Users include people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

Jerry Kerr, a former builder from St. Louis who became quadriplegic in a diving accident, said people treat him differently when he addresses them face-to-face from his Segway instead of from a wheelchair.

"I don't know how to describe the feeling, when you have resigned yourself to spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair and that whenever you look at someone you're looking at their waist and rear end," Kerr said. "Then, you're having the ability to stand and interact with someone at their level."

[Last modified February 8, 2004, 01:45:41]

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