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Accessing theme parks for those with disabilities
|Tony Phoenix and Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editors|
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is the perfect example of how to make a theme park accessible to guests with disabilities. There is very little that cannot be enjoyed by all guests, regardless of their disability.
The primary disabled parking section is located near the main entrance. Ask the parking staff to direct you. You must have either a disabled placard or plates to park in this area. The amount of parking is very limited and fills quickly.
There is so much to see and do that getting around the studio is crucial. Here are some key points to remember:
A limited number of wheelchairs are available for rental at the studios. They can be rented at the stroller/wheelchair rental on your far right as you enter the studio itself. A picture ID must be left as a security deposit.
Moving Between the Upper and Lower Lots
Universal Studios is built on a hill overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The park is split into two areas: the Upper and Lower lots. Most of the shows, the Backlot Tram Tour, Back to the Future·The Ride, and Terminator 3D are located on the upper lot. Jurassic Park, Backdraft, the E.T. Adventure, and other lesser attractions are on the lower lot.
Guests moving between the two lots normally use the Starway escalators. For those who cannot use the escalators, alternate transportation is available. From the upper lot, proceed down an elevator next to the escalator entrance. This elevator takes you to a boarding area for a wheelchair accessible shuttle. The shuttles are the best-equipped vehicles we have seen at a theme park. They can accommodate 2 guests in wheelchairs, and 6 additional adults. The wheelchairs are held in place with a wheel locking system which basically grabs the rear wheels from behind and clamps them against the back of the van. No messy tie downs here!
As great as the vehicles themselves are, be warned that it may take 30 minutes or more to move between lots using the shuttles. This is especially true on crowded days, as only 2 guests IN wheelchairs can be accommodated. IF you can transfer from your wheelchair, you may be asked to do so in order to accommodate more guests on the shuttle. In addition, the vans are popular with guests with strollers, which may further limit the number of guests that can be accommodated.
If your party is larger than 3 or so, have the ambulatory members of your party use the escalators and wait for you at your destination. This will help keep the van from being overloaded.
From the Lower Lot: The shuttle van pickup and drop off is found underneath the first level of the Stairway escalator.
Assistive listening devices are available for all shows at Universal Studios. You can obtain them from Guest Relations free of charge. For other attractions, there are printed summaries available at Guest Relations. Some attractions also offer a captioning system. Ask the cast member of more information regarding availability.
All restrooms have wheelchair accessible facilities.
The main First Aid station is located in the upper lot next to the Animal Actors Stage. A registered nurse is on duty at all times. There is a secondary First Aid station located near the entrance to the Jurassic Park ride. If you need assistance elsewhere in the studios, contact any cast member and they will notify First Aid for you.
There are two TDD phone locations: at Guest Relations and at the Information Desk near the ticket booths.
All stores and restaurants are 100% accessible. Cast members at any store or restaurant will be glad to help you. Simply let them know what they can do for you. I have never had a problem getting the assistance I needed.
To reach the Tour, you will need to take an escalator down to the queue area. An elevator is located next to the escalator, for guests who prefer not to use the escalator.
People with disabilities and their party can pre-board the tram. Just ask a cast member at the tram loading area. For wheelchair users, you have the option of transferring to a regular seat on the tram or remaining in your chair. Scooters and extra-large chairs cannot be accommodated on the trams. The Tour Trams have a very neat system for transferring wheelchairs onto the trams. A mobile, hydraulic lift raises you up to tram level, where you can roll onto the tram. Due to the nature of the tram motion, the drivers will use tie downs to secure your chair to the tram floor.
The Studio tour includes trips through the Earthquake and King Kong Stages, as well as a Mummy - themed set. The first two include violent motions and sudden jolts. (That's why they use a 4-point restraint on wheelchairs) The Mummy set includes a spinning tunnel that is very bad for those with vertigo and motion sickness problems. Our advice - ask the Tour Guide to warn you before you go into the Mummy set, and CLOSE YOUR EYES.
Note - We had the misfortune of finding the elevator broken down on our last trip. Confusion reigned, as cast members were unsure of how to accommodate me. The final solution was to use the shuttle that normally transports guests between the upper and lower lots.
Back to the Future: The Ride
Enter the attraction to the left of the main queue.
This ride is similar to a full motion flight simulator. It has a tendency to be extremely bumpy with extreme jerky motion. The transfer into the vehicle can be challenging. The ride incorporates the use of a chemical fog machine that completely surrounds you with mist. Persons with breathing difficulties should be advised.
Proceed to the main entrance and cast members will direct you from there.
Incorporates loud noises and other special effects. Guests may remain in their chairs; however, the designated wheelchair seating (and the area reserved for your party) does not include some of the special effects. If you chose to remain in your chair, we suggest that your party sit immediately BEHIND you, not next to you, so that they may experience more of the effects.
Enter the attraction through the normal queue, breaking off at the guest locker building. The cast member will direct you from there.
In almost all cases, you will come off of this ride completely soaked. It has one of the steepest drops of any water ride in the world. Transferring into the boat is difficult and very slippery.
Enter through the exit, on the right hand side of the gift shop. You will need to get the attention of the cast member. They only allow one wheelchair per group to prevent crowding and bottlenecks.
The queue area is long, wide and totally wheelchair accessible. However, there seems to be no alternate for guests who cannot stand very long in line. If you do not feel that you can stand in a 20-minute line, ask for alternate access.
Once you reach the boarding area, you will be asked if you can transfer from your wheelchair. (I thought that was a bad time to be asking that particular question for the first time. I was afraid that if Tony could not leave the chair, that we would have just waited in a long line for nothing, but I was pleasantly surprised) If you are able to transfer, you will move into the rear of the ride vehicle. This seat is a three-person bench seat, and is fairly easy to get into. If you need to stay in your chair, there is a special car equipped to accommodate wheelchairs. Be aware that there is only one such vehicle, so it can take up to 10 minutes to board. The ride does involve heights and swooping movements. In the event of an evacuation, you must be able to leave your wheelchair and be carried to safety.
Proceed to the marked entrance to the right of the main queue, marked with a large wheelchair painted on the ground.
The first two scenes are completely accessible and have no major issues for guests with disabilities. There is also a silent-radio type captioning system in place. We have only seen it used to provide simultaneous Spanish translation, but we are informed that is will also provide closed captioning if needed.
The final scene of this attraction is VERY hot as it demonstrates many of the effects used in the Backdraft movie. At one point in this final scene, the floor drops without warning, so guests using crutches or canes or with balance problems should make a point of holding tightly to the handrails. Guests with extreme sensitivity to heat or highly sensitive skin probably should bypass this scene. To bypass it, simply ask a cast member for instructions.
Also, be advised that the final scene is VERY loud. If you use a hearing aid or audio amplification device, turn it way down. If you have highly sensitive hearing, you may want to bypass this scene altogether.
The World of Cinemagic
Wait at the designated location the right of the queue, marked with a large wheelchair painted on the ground.
Cinemagic is presented in three stages. Each stage demonstrates several different elements of movie special effects. Wheelchair seating for this show is poor at best, as you sit to the extreme far left of the stages. During the second presentation, you will watch much of the action on a large screen television, as the seating area is SO far to the left that you actually can not see the stage. In addition, you may be able to hear the next show better than the one you're actually watching.
Several guests will be asked to participate. However, they generally will not invite guests with disabilities for safety and liability reasons.
All of the shows have designated seating for wheelchairs. Simply ask a cast member, and they will direct you.
All of Citywalk is accessible.
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