Why Universal Studios Parks Suck for Amputees

UniversalStudiosHollywood

I have had one leg for 35 of my 50 years. I’m an above the knee amputee. I don’t wear a prosthesis – I use crutches. Our family loves theme parks, and I have ridden on countless rides in countless theme parks over the past few decades, including several fun trips to Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. Each time, I rode all the rides there with no problems at all. Then we visited US Hollywood in February of 2015, and I discovered that suddenly I’m banned from most of the rides there.

No one told me this when I arrived at the park. After waiting in a 60 minute line for a Harry Potter ride, I was told I could not ride. (No one told me when I got into the line.) I asked if there were any other rides that had the same restriction. They said they didn’t know, but thought maybe the mummy ride might. Then, I ended up spending much of the day being told many times that I could not ride a ride, but no one could tell me which were OK and which weren’t.

While my family was on one ride without me, I used the magic of the internet to discover that Universal has full guides listing all the restrictions on rides for people with various disabilities. (I’m not sure why none of the employees knew this.) You can find the “RIDER’S GUIDE For Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities” for Universal Orlando Resort here: www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/files/Documents/universal-orlando-riders-guide.pdf, and the “Rider’s Guide for Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities”for Universal Hollywood is here: www.universalstudioshollywood.com/site-content/uploads/2017/05/Riders_Guide_July-2016.pdf

After perusing the guide, I got very familiar with the phrase “When seated, both legs (natural or prosthetic) must extend to edge of seat or terminate below the knee.” It appeared MANY times in the guide. By reading the guide, I discovered there were very few rides I was actually allowed on. I couldn’t even go on some of the kiddie rides!

While my family was on another ride without me, I researched why the policy had changed so drastically. It turns out that in 2011, a double amputee fell from a roller coaster and was killed. This man had no limb on one side, and a short stump on the other, and rode a roller coaster with a lap bar and seat belt belt for restraints.

“once it was rolling, Luffred said, he realized the belt and lap bar in the coaster might not hold his uncle, who had no lap. The coaster quickly climbs to an incredible height, sending cars on a 70-mph plunge. It then torpedoes through two circular loops and crests another hill — where, his nephew said, Hackemer was ejected. “The last time I saw him was when he was flying out,” he said. “He didn’t have anything holding him down.”

Certainly that was a tragedy, and I get that it made sense for every theme park to evaluate their safety mechanisms to prevent future tragedies. It makes sense for ride designers to take these situations into account so they can make the rides safer for amputees and everyone else in the future.

But, I think Universal has gone too far. Their restrictions affect too many of their attractions. I personally would not ride on a looping roller coaster with only lap restraints. With “half a lap”, I don’t feel this would be safe for me. But many of the rides I’m barred from at Universal are nowhere near this degree of risk. Not only do I THINK they would be safe, I know they are, because I have ridden them in the past!

Here’s the list of what I can’t do at Universal Studios Hollywood – you can see the red circles on the map at the top of this post, which shows all the things I can’t ride. The short answer is – I’m banned from pretty much all the rides.

  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Harry Potter Forbidden Journey (Ben)
  • Jurassic Park the Ride
  • Revenge of the Mummy (Ben)
  • Simpsons
  • Transformers the Ride

In Orlando, here’s what I’m banned from:

  • Cat in the Hat
  • High in the Sky Trolley
  • Pteranadon Flyers
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Harry Potter Forbidden Journey
  • Bilge Rat Barges
  • Incredible Hulk coaster
  • Storm Force Accelatron
  • Dr. Doom’s Fearfall
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – US
  • Revenge of the Mummy – US
  • HP Escape from Gringotts – US

Ripsaw Falls and Caro-seuss-el I MIGHT be able to ride on. It’s unclear in advance.

These rides luckily only require one leg, so I can actually ride all of them: Flight of the Hippogriff, Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers, Race through New York, Reign of Kong, Men in Black Alien Attack, Twirl and Hurl, Simpsons Ride, ET Adventure, Woody Woodpecker’s Coaster.  (Note that some of those rides – in bold type – share names with some I’m banned from in California. It’s possible the design differs between parks, but it seems that if they’ve figured out how to make them do-able for people with one leg in one park, they should be able to transfer that design to the other park.)

So, here’s what my day in Orlando would look like… the red circles show things I’m banned from. If it has a pink circle, I’m allowed on it, but I’d likely need to have the guide in hand to show to ride operators to convince them that it was OK for me to ride.

Islands

USFlorida

My family has loved going to Islands of Adventure for years. And we’re huge Harry Potter fans, so we would love to spend more time at the Wizarding World. But I’m questioning whether I want to return to a Universal Studios Park when it would mean a day spent mostly sitting around by myself while my family waited in lines and rode rides without me. They would skip the rides for my sake and just do the shows, but I’d feel worse about that than I would feel about sitting alone.

In most of my life, I don’t really feel handicapped. There are very few things that my amputation has prevented me from doing. Due to these policies, I feel more disabled at Universal Studios than anywhere else I’ve ever been in the past 35 years.

At Disney, I can do every single thing in the park! It is possible to make theme parks accessible. I wish Universal Studios was doing a better job of it.

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3 thoughts on “Why Universal Studios Parks Suck for Amputees

  1. Claire Blackburn says:

    Hi Janelle, I am a bilateral above knee amputee. Do you think I will be ok to ride most things as long as my legs extend to the end of the seat? Do they check this once you are seated or did they just see you were an amputee and say no? Thanks!

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    • In my case, they just saw I was an above the knee amputee and said no. When I read the guidelines, they say things like: “When seated, both legs (natural or prosthetic) must extend to edge of seat or terminate below the knee.” I have a fairly short stump that would never reach the edge of a seat. If you have most of your femurs, and your amputations are just above the knee, then MAYBE you’d be OK?? I would check in with guest services in advance or when you arrive to somehow get the stamp of approval on this, but even then, you’d probably have to explain and negotiate at every ride. 😦

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