When retired Marine Johnny “Joey” Jones sat down in a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia, he was told he could not stay on the ride.
Jones, who served as a bomb technician, said he is used to making accommodations for his disability: He lost his legs at his knees when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in 2010 in the Safar Bazaar in Afghanistan. Still, the 31-year-old veteran said, he had not seen the handicapped sign at the Six Flags near Atlanta on Sunday for the ride, which was similar to ones that he had ridden at other theme parks.
So when a ride operator saw his prosthetic legs and told Jones that he could not ride the roller coaster with his 8-year-old son, he wanted to know why.
“He either said, ‘Because you don’t have real legs’ or ‘Because you don’t have legs,’ ” Jones recalled, trying to remember the park employee’s exact words.
“Yeah, that’s crass, but he was regurgitating the rules as best he knew them,” the veteran told The Washington Post, explaining that he is not upset that he was told to leave the ride.
He is, however, concerned with the way the park’s policy was presented to him and the fact that, in his opinion, the policy is too restrictive to accommodate people with disabilities.
“They’re just not prepared or trained to be accommodating, and that’s what’s so disheartening,” he said.
Since he lost his legs, Jones said, he has visited several other theme parks, including Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld San Antonio. He has been given clear information on Americans With Disabilities Act policies and, when appropriate, special accommodations for rides.
But Six Flags, he said, treated him “like a nuisance and liability.”
The Georgia park did not respond to requests for comment. But Fox News Channel reported that Six Flags apologized and said its policies are intended to protect riders.
“We apologize to Mr. Jones for any inconvenience; however, to ensure safety, guests with certain disabilities are restricted from riding certain rides and attractions,” Six Flags said in a statement to Fox News. “Our accessibility policy includes ride safety guidelines and the requirements of the federal American Disabilities Act. Our policies are customized by ride and developed for the safety of all our guests. Our policies and procedures are reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis to ensure we continue to accommodate the needs of our guests while simultaneously maintaining a safe environment for everyone.”
After the incident, Jones, of Dalton, Ga., went on Twitter, recounting his experience and criticizing Six Flags for what he considers to be far-reaching policies that exclude people with disabilities.
Six Flags Over Georgia’s Guest Safety and Accessibility Guide, which is available online and, the company says, at the park, lists physical requirements for 39 rides, 34 of which require one to two “fully functional legs,” “natural legs” up to a certain point (such as a knee), or a “leg sufficient to be contained and restrained by a leg strap.”
The guide defines a “functioning extremity” as “a limb over which a person has control. A prosthetic device is not considered a functioning extremity.” It further defines a “functioning leg” as “a leg with a foot.”
In some cases, prosthetics are specifically banned from the rides. There appear to be five rides that do not mention any such restrictions.
Jones said the language is difficult to interpret.
According to the U.S. Access Board, which oversees ADA standards, the law requires “that newly constructed and altered state and local government facilities, places of public accommodation, and commercial facilities be readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities.”
In regard to theme parks, it states:
These guidelines establish minimum accessibility requirements for newly designed or newly constructed and altered amusement park rides. This guide is not a collection of amusement ride designs. Rather, it provides specifications for elements of amusement rides to create a general level of usability for individuals with disabilities. Emphasis is placed on ensuring that individuals with disabilities are generally able to access the amusement ride and use a variety of elements. Designers and operators are encouraged to exceed the guidelines where possible to provide increased accessibility and opportunities. Incorporating accessibility into the design of an amusement ride should begin early in the planning process with careful consideration to accessible routes and providing access to rides.
In 2011, a double amputee who lost his legs fighting in Iraq was killed when he fell out of a roller coaster at a theme park in New York.
Although tragic, Jones said, that situation was different from his because in that case, the veteran had no lap for the lap bar to rest on. Jones said he still has his natural legs down to his knees.
Jones served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 and in Afghanistan in 2010, when he lost his legs. He retired in 2012, according to his military records.
“I spent the last eight years reclaiming my life,” he said, explaining that’s why he was so frustrated by his experience at Six Flags Over Georgia. He already bypasses many rides that he deems unsafe for himself, such as ones in which the rider’s legs dangle, he said. “I don’t want to die,” he said.
He wants Six Flags to be more accommodating or, at the very least, to better convince him that its rides are not safe for him.
“It’s not a safety issue,” he said. “It’s a liability issue.”
He added: “I’m not calling for a boycott; I’m not at odds with Six Flags. My hope would be that Six Flags would make information more readily available and ride operators more informed … and have a culture that would include me and not exclude me.”