Disability Rights North Carolina files a lawsuit against Carowinds Amusement Park

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2017

RALEIGH — Disability Rights North Carolina has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Carowinds Amusement Park discriminates against people with disabilities.

Plaintiff Matthew Aldridge of Clover and his wife purchased season tickets for their family in 2016, according to the lawsuit. The family said they were looking forward to multiple trips to Carowinds throughout the year.

When visiting Carowinds, Aldridge and his two children were informed they could use only 10 of the park’s 50 rides because they each have amputations at the knee.

Aldridge found the restrictions puzzling, his representatives said, because he has visited Carowinds many times and rode almost every ride there.

The restrictions were particularly hard for the two children because they were barred from the rides in Planet Snoopy, the park’s section for children, the suit says.

 “I’ve always had lots of fun at Carowinds, and I want my children to have the chance to create great memories there,” Aldridge said. “Carowinds’ decision to discriminate against them and me turned what should have been a fun family outing into a painful reminder that the fight for the rights of people with disabilities is far from over.”

The Americans With Disabilities Act, a federal civil rights law, prohibits businesses from discriminating against people with disabilities. A business can exclude someone because of his disability only if there are health and safety concerns that relate specifically to that individual. Having broad rules that exclude people with physical disabilities based on speculation, stereotypes, and generalizations violates the act.

Disability Rights North Carolina is a federally funded advocacy group for people with disabilities. It provides legal services free of charge.

According to a news release from the organization, Carowinds’ answers about which rides present a health or safety risk to the Aldridges wavered. Carowinds officials told the Aldridges they could use 25 rides, then said 30 rides. They finally settled on 10.

Holly Stiles, the senior attorney with Disability Rights North Carolina, said the case is twofold.

On one side, she said, the Aldridges were refused admission onto some rides even though they met safety standards. On another, Stiles said, some rides had nonsensical requirements.

Stiles cited safety standards for the Yo-Yo High-Flying Family Ride. Carowinds’ guest accessibility handbook says a user must be able to brace himself.

“Your feet are dangling. You’re up in the air. What would you brace yourself against?” Stiles said. “There’s an open question about where those standards are derived from and how they have those standards.”

“Going to Carowinds is a summer tradition for many in the Carolinas,” said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina. “We cannot permit people with disabilities to be left out of the fun based on uninformed, unnecessary concerns for their safety.”

Representatives for Carowinds were not available for comment.