Braille Monitor                                                                  November 1985

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Walt Disney Makes A Mountian Out of A Molehill

Kensington, Maryland
September 26, 1985

Walt Disney World Company
Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Dear Sir:

From July 25-28, 1985, my family and I spent four days at Walt Disney World. Most of our experiences were enjoyable, entertaining, and informative. We had one experience that was unpleasant. Not only did it cause me great internal distress, but the actions of your staff during this incident may well have been against the law of the state of Florida. Let me mention at this point that I am blind and a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Part of our work is in advocating the rights of blind people, and, therefore, I am familiar with laws concerning blind people, their purposes, and the results of their testing in court.

During my first three days at WDW I was very much interested in the accessibility of the various features to the blind and physically handicapped. I noticed with pleasure that for several rides at EPCOT scents were added for extra enjoyment which led me to believe that your interest was for more than just the visual effect. I noticed with pleasure and approval that for the ride in the Mexico Pavilion the boat ahead of ours had a board put across it so that a woman in a wheelchair could take the ride. I hope that you will convey my appreciation to your staff for their concern and ingenuity for opening an opportunity for the physically handicapped. In the Magic Kingdom my daughters (ages nine and thirteen), having been photographed with Chip or Dale, wanted me to share their pleasure and brought him to me. He stood patiently while I fulfilled the paternal duties of patting the tufted head, stroking the furry arm, pinching the chubby cheek, and remarking on what a fine chipmunk he was. All of these experiences led me to believe that WDW wanted me to enjoy as fully as possible the features of the park.

At about 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 28, my thirteen-year-old daughter and I were in the approach line for Space Mountain when your young lady at the start of the serpentine asked my sighted daughter how much I could see. It would have been far more polite, although equally irrelevant, if she had asked me. I remember very few of the exact words that she, your employee, or I used, but the message became clear. I, a blind man, was being asked to wait while something special was done. I was told that I had to have a blue pass or I would not be boarded upon reaching the cars. I refused both the pass and the opportunity to talk with her supervisor when that was offered. From knowledge and experience gained through the NFB I knew that such special conditions were against the law, and I was not obliged to conform to them, and I said as much. I then turned, and my daughter and I proceeded through the serpentine.

Upon arriving at the loading platform I was met by your employee, Jim, with whom I repeated most of the previous conversation. Jim then told me that I had to assure him that I could handle whatever dangers were involved. His list included in case the ride broke down, walking over open tracks, and climbing down vertical ladders. I said that requiring this concern of me was a special condition not required of any others taking the ride. Jim said that it was, indeed, required of others--the deaf and those using crutches--but his list stopped there and did not include the general public. As I was not frightened by Jim's conditions, I said that they were acceptable to me. Jim then thrust a boarding pass on my daughter, a fact I did not realize at the time, and we proceeded the few feet to the cars where we boarded the ride, the attendant taking the pass. I regret very much that Jim felt he had to force on my thirteen-year-old daughter the pass he could not force on me. We rode and departed uneventfully.

Jim had told me that the Space Mountain ride had broken down thirty five minutes before my arrival. I am sure that no one had to climb down any ladders then. Indeed, an hour later my whole family was on another ride which stopped half way through. The only thing that happened was an announcement asking us to stay in our cars. Anything, of course, is possible.

The National Federation of the Blind in its several chapters has caused to be passed by state legislatures what we call the White Cane Law. The form is slightly different in each state, but the basic provisions are the same. I enclose a copy of the Florida law for your consideration. The part to which I refer is concerned with public accommodations. Please note that blind people are to have full and equal access under the same conditions as the general public. Is the general public required to answer questions about how much they can see, agree to conditions of danger and rescue, accept and deliver special boarding passes, or to be delayed in the line to achieve any of these? The answer, of course, is "no." As I read Section 1 of the law, I believe I have the right to enter and ride without any of the conditions that were required of me. As I read Section 2 of the law, I believe that your employees were in violation of the law by placing special conditions on me. I urge you in the spirit of good citizenship and fellowship to instruct your staff as to the provisions of the law so that their actions may be in compliance with the law and that they may no longer require special conditions of the blind. I ask you to send me a copy of whatever instructions you give to your staff and a copy of the blue boarding pass so that I will know what to expect when next I visit WDW. I know that I do not want and I hope that you do not want a repetition of my experience at Space Mountain. By the way, I am sure that if you require special conditions of the deaf and the orthopedically disabled, you will some day cross legal swords with representatives of those communities.

I have ridden many different rides in many different parks since I became blind in 1950, including Space Mountain at Disneyland, California. My experiences and conditions were always just the same as those of the other riders. My recommendations to my friends were always positive. Because of my experience this year at WDW, I can no longer include that park as a place to go and have a good time. It is now difficult for me to enjoy myself at any park because of the memories of the way I was treated at Space Mountain. Those memories spoiled my enjoyment at Cedar Point, Ohio, in August of this year.

I ask you again to send me a copy of whatever instructions you write for your employees concerning this matter and a copy of the blue boarding pass.

Yours truly,

Thomas Bickford

cc: Mr. Kenneth Jernigan President
National Federation of the Blind

Senator Paula Hawkins
U. S. Senate

Attorney General Jim Smith
Florida