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Girl With No Hands Barred From SeaWorld, Universal Orlando Rides

First Posted: 02/ 3/2012 11:30 am Updated: 02/ 3/2012 1:35 pm

Orlando is a destination for rollercoaster lovers, but apparently there are unstated requirements for riders. A 17-year-old-girl was told that she could not partake in some of the city's most thrilling rides because she does not have hands.

Katie Champagne, of Michigan, was visiting Central Orlando with her family when she was removed from SeaWorld's Kraken coaster Thursday, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Champagne, who was born without hands, was told she couldn't ride because "the manufacturers guidelines require that a guest be able to grasp the pull-down harness with at least one hand." However, she contends SeaWorld allowed her to ride Kraken before.

Champagne was given the same reasons when she was barred from Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure in December. The family's tickets were refunded afterward.

According to a spokesman for SeaWorld, "Our policies regarding guests with disabilities were written in consultation with ride safety experts, ride design consultants and manufacturers of each of our attractions."

"Making exceptions opens theme parks to liability and park-goers to danger," James Barber, member of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, told the Sentinel. "Safety rules aren't just put there arbitrarily. They don't put those restrictions there to be mean.'"

However, an attorney who has been working with the Champagne family told the paper that "the requirement for Katie to grasp the harness 'with at least one hand,' rather than her arm, is an unnecessary distinction and possible violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

A July 2011 accident in New York may strengthen Barber's point. Sgt. James Thomas Hackemer, who lost his legs in Iraq, was thrown from Ride of Steel coaster at the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, USA Today reported at the time. People without legs are not allowed to ride two of the park's other coasters, but, according to Hackemer's family, park attendants never challenged his ability to ride the Ride of Steel.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the ride also has a height requirement of 54 inches. Hackemer was only 36 inches tall after his accident.

The paper also points to issues of obesity on amusement park rides. In 1999, a 400-pound man was thrown from the same ride when it was owned by another company.

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Filed by Rebecca Dolan  |