Monday, November 12, 2007

Motorized mouse

On Friday November 9 2007, Walt Disney World had a lawsuit filed against them in federal court. The three individuals who have sued Disney asked that a judge in U S District Court in Orlando FL certify their suit as a class action suit that could possibly represent numerous disabled persons nationwide.

The three, Mahala Ault and Dan Wallace of IL and Stacie Rhea of Iowa state in their lawsuit that they use Segways as mobility aids but Disney has denied them permission to use them at Disney World. The lawsuit claims that Disney violated the American's with Disabilities Act which requires businesses to make "reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures" to accomodate to sccomodate disabled customers. The suit's goals amd arguments are similar to ones raised by a group called DRAFT, which has been pushing for nationwide acceptance of the Segway use of the disabled.

The Segway is a new type of motorized scooter that uses two wheels, gyroscopes and advanced software to keep even an unbalenced rider stable. It has a top speed of 12.5 mph which is about 3 to 4 times faster than the average walker. The Segway lacks a traditional type of steering but is known for it's ability to instantly move forward and make pinpoint turns and stops.

Critics of the Segway have stated that it doesn't belong on city sidewalks for those reasons and many cities already had bans in place that would prevent someone from using a Segway on the sidewalks. In 2002, San Francisco banned them from sidewalks citing safety concerns and in 2004, Disney banned them from their parks that they had not been approved by the FDA as medical devices in the U S. Segways are allowed to use several of the theme park areas for guided tours before operating hours when there are few crowds.

Worldwide, the Segway has had restrictions placed on it as well. It is illegal to use them on the roads in the Netherlands, UK , Germany and Sweden. In Denmark and Japan, they have been classified as mopeds or motorcycles and require license plates, lights and mechanical brakes which leaves it almost impossible to use them there legally.

As of September 2006 approximately 23,500 Segways had been sold worldwide with the majority of them in the beginning going to police departments, large warehouses and the postal service. The lawsuit claims that the three are part of approximately 4,000 to 7,000 who use the Segway as a mobility device. If I do some very quick and messy math with those numbers, their numbers represent approximately one-sixth to one-third of all Segways sold. That would seem to be a very large margin of difference.

Most people have not encountered a Segway in their daily lives and to place what seems to be a very tiny number of them in what at times, is a very crowded place such as Disney may be asking for an accident to occur. Disney does allow other FDA approved mobility devices in their parks and while all three named in the lawsuit state that they do not own a wheelchair or conventional scooter, I am sure that arrangements could be made for them to have the use of one while there. I do understand their need for dignity but I also understand that their wishes should not endanger others who are there to enjoy a vacation as well.

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