2018 Trends: Accessibility


In writing this 2018 Trends series, we noticed an overarching theme: water parks are designing, renovating, and building their attractions to reach larger and more diverse audiences. This week we're discussing how both established parks and new parks are also focusing on making parks accessible to accommodate guests of all abilities.

In her interview with inPark magazine,  Aleatha Ezra, WWA Association Director of Park Member Development, says, “Waterpark operators are trying to address the needs of more guests, and they are spending more time implementing procedures that accommodate guests with various physical and cognitive disabilities.” Let's take a look at how parks are integrating accessible spaces and designing attractions with guest needs in mind:

Attractions For Everyone

In the summer of 2017, Morgan’s Inspiration Island opened its doors as the world’s first water park specifically designed for guests with disabilities. The park is fully wheelchair accessible (the park provides air-powered waterproof wheelchairs) and the list of wheelchair-accessible attractions includes a River Boat Adventure ride as well as multiple splash pads. The park's splash pads cater to variety of preferences, needs, and sensitivities: having warm water options for people with neurological or sensory needs, quiet spaces for people to decompress, limited park attendance to ensure a quieter overall experience (with online tickets available so guests aren’t turned away due to audience restriction), and continuously filtered water which is treated and recirculated so guests with immune sensitivities can play safely.

J.T. Grommet Island Park is also specifically designed with diverse guest abilities in mind. The park opened in 2010 and features 15,000 sq.ft. of ramps for easy maneuverability, as well as soft play sculptures, accessible play equipment, and cushioned play surfaces for a well-rounded recreational experience. The park also has special beach wheelchairs for guests who wish to go into the sand. (x)

For a list of parks with accessibility features, 101 Mobility lists the top 6 wheelchair friendly theme parks (including, but not limited to: Sesame Place, all Cedar Fair Entertainment properties, Six Flags, and all Disney properties) and provides downloadable maps that guide guests towards the best experience.

The Curb-Cut Effect

As they say, one good turn deserves another. To explain, let’s return to wheelchairs and the curb-cut effect. 

A quick recap on the history of the term curb-cut effect: In 1968 the Architectural Barriers act was passed, requiring all government buildings to be wheelchair accessible. However, roads were still extremely difficult for anyone in a wheelchair to access because of the curb height. In 1972 there was a rise in curb cuts across the country, but not a full adoption. It only became a fully realized national movement in 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. And what we experienced as a nation was easier access for not only wheelchair users, but also parents with strollers, workers with heavy carts, bicyclists on sidewalks, runners, and skateboarders. Essentially, the curb-cut effect has become an argument for better design in that if you design well for disabilities, you design well for everyone else. You design universally. 

A great example of the curb-cut effect in the aquatics industry is the zero depth entry application. Adding low-decline ramps, for example, makes entering pools easier for limited mobility guests, and also keeps families together at facilities by having a single, multi-depth aquatic attraction instead of separate pools and splash pad features. 

We're looking forward to watching the designs and new builds unfold in 2018. And especially keeping an eye out for how aquatic facilities serve guests of all abilities with fun and safety in mind.