Part of Six Flags’ efforts to make its parks more accessible

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dallas – Six Flags America has taken two major steps to make its parks more accessible to people with physical disabilities and autism, concluding years of effort by the amusement park chain and reflecting a broader movement toward accessibility in the industry entertainment.

“I believe everyone has the same philosophy as us, that we want to be open to anyone who wants to come and enjoy our properties,” said Jason Freeman, vice president of public safety and risk management.

Six Flags has fitted its rides in U.S. parks with specialized harnesses that allow people with physical disabilities to access them, the company announced last month.

Its parks in the United States and Mexico have also been accredited as Certified Centers for Autism, a designation overseen by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, meaning the amusement park chain has taken measures to better accommodate people with autism. The company’s Canadian location is in the process of being certified.

It took about five years and cost more than $1 million to develop the harness and install it in every park, Freeman said. The device will allow people who are missing limbs or fingers and those who cannot fit in a traditional harness or prepare in the same way as others to be safely strapped in for rides.

“There are some restrictions, but 98% of the general public can ride all of our rides,” he said.

Six Flags parks began working to become Certified Autism Centers in 2019, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic meant it took three years for them all to earn the distinction.

In order for the parks to be certified, 80% of Six Flags public-facing staff had to be trained in welcoming visitors with autism. The company has also added low-sensory zones to its parks, allowing people with sensory sensitivities to take a break when they need it, and created sensory guides for attractions.

Without this type of accommodation, an autistic person might have to spend hours planning a trip to a theme park, said Credentials Board Chair Meredith Tekin.

“We are all human beings. We all want to be understood and welcomed,” she said. “And if we take a few small steps, in this case into an entertainment space, we can accommodate so many more individuals and families.”

A larger trend

The Accreditation Board has provided its Certified Autism Center designation since 2016. Although Six Flags is the first theme park chain to ensure all of its parks have the designation, companies like SeaWorld and LegoLand have worked with advice to gain status at some of their sites.

It’s not just theme parks. Sports venues have added sensory spaces. The Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University held its first sensory concert in 2019.

“Organizations are finally realizing, ‘We need to do more to make sure we can accommodate these visitors and bring more people to us, but also improve this customer experience,'” Tekin said.

Some other theme parks, such as SeaWorld and Cedar Point, have used specialized harnesses to expand access for people with physical disabilities.

A low sensory zone where amusement park sounds are muted is featured at Six Flags in Arlington, Texas.

The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require amusement park operators to create specialized technology like Six Flags’ harnesses to make rides accessible. In general, it allows security restrictions that sometimes exclude people with disabilities.

Some people have sued amusement parks, including Six Flags, after being barred from rides due to physical disabilities. Freeman wrote in an email that Six Flags does not comment on disputes related to the theme park industry or itself, but that the harness was “developed for the sole purpose of allowing as many people as possible to enjoy.” ‘guests to ride our rides safely’.

Six Flags’ actions go beyond the company’s legal obligations to make parks accessible, he said.

In a 2019 article published in the University of Mississippi Law Journal, William Moorer argued that theme parks are likely within their rights to implement certain safety restrictions prohibiting people from riding rides, but he called for more companies to make rides accessible in a safe way, pointing to the example of SeaWorld and Cedar Point.

In an interview, he also praised Six Flags’ decision.

“As long as it can be done safely, I think everything about this is a step in the right direction,” said Moorer, now a practicing attorney.

Freeman noted that it’s in Six Flags’ financial interests to make sure as many people as possible can visit its parks. But it’s not about the money, he says.

“Our goal as a company is not to stop anyone from coming to our parks,” he said.

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