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9th Cir on Disney ADA Denial: 'That's Not the World We Live In'

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Last week, we told you about Tina Baughman, a mother who wants to traverse Disneyland on a Segway because she has muscular dystrophy. Baughman filed a lawsuit to challenge Disneyland's ban on two-wheeled vehicles and devices, claiming that wheelchairs and scooters are not viable options for her because it is difficult for her to walk or stand from a seated position.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Baughman's wheelchair argument was barred by judicial estoppel because she had claimed in three prior lawsuits that "she has a physical impairment which causes her to rely upon a power scooter or wheelchair for her mobility."

While her claim failed under judicial estoppel, her underlying ADA claim survived.

In addition to asserting the judicial estoppel defense, Disney claimed that it wasn't "necessary" for Baughman to use a Segway in the park unless should couldn't do without it. That argument rubbed Chief Judge Alex Kozinski the wrong way.

Judge Kozinski wrote that, under Disney's interpretation, the ADA would offer few accommodations:

After all, a paraplegic can enter a courthouse by dragging himself up the front steps, so lifts and ramps would not be "necessary" under Disney's reading of the term. And no facility would be required to provide wheelchair-accessible doors or bathrooms, because disabled individuals could be carried in litters or on the backs of their friends. That's not the world we live in, and we are disappointed to see such a retrograde position taken by a company whose reputation is built on service to the public.

Contrary to Disney's assertion, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that public accommodations must start by considering how their facilities are used by non-disabled guests and then take reasonable steps to provide disabled guests with a like experience.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that facilities are not required to make any and all possible accommodations that could provide full and equal access to disabled patrons; they need only make accommodations that are reasonable. Those accommodations, however, must also take into account evolving technology that might make it cheaper and easier to ameliorate the plight of the disabled.

If Disney had re-evaluated its reasonable accommodation policies in light of new technology, it could have spared the company a trip to federal court and bad press.

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