Human factors and access to amusement rides

Human factors engineering looks at how the interaction of people and technology affects the performance of the whole system. The attractions industry creates a very interesting application because it doesn’t manufacture conventional products or other tangibles. An amusement ride is a system that produces fun. People are not consumers of the ride; they are a component of the system. The system is different with different people in it. Not only do people vary in their individual capabilities and limitations, but they also vary in their goals and definitions of fun.

People with disabilities want to have fun too, and attraction operators in theme parks and carnivals want everyone to be able to participate to the fullest extent possible.

“Accessibility issues” are simply design conventions that don’t work for certain people.  Some attractions are inherently accessible or can be intentionally designed with inclusive design principles at the outset. Alternatively, existing designs sometimes can subsequently be modified to remove barriers. This is a fundamentally creative industry: devising ways to accommodate guest differences seems to be the type of challenge that brings out the best from ride designers.

We have seen multiple sizes of ride seats for guests who are large or small, seats that allow guests to transfer from wheelchairs or even remain in the wheelchair while on the ride, supplementary restraint devices to contain guests who have amputations, and subtitles and audio description of video material in the pre-attraction briefing and the show itself for guests who are deaf or blind.  The ASTM F24 standards consider that some guests may participate with a supervising companion, enabling them to ride when they might not be able to safely experience the ride alone due to age or disability.

Accessibility in the amusement industry is not only, or even primarily, a matter of removing barriers. Sometimes, the only barrier to someone’s participation is a caution from the manufacturer of the ride itself or a requirement imposed by a local authority. While no one wants guests exposed to a ride that they cannot tolerate, we have found that many manufacturers’ cautions are unclear about the specific basis for concern. The ASTM Committee F24 Rider Eligibility Task Group is developing a standard practice to be used in the ride analysis to determine and communicate evidence-based participation eligibility criteria.

As a deaf person, sometimes I encounter accessibility barriers in the activity itself.  However, other times, my access problem is with other people deciding what I can do, based on their impressions of my best interests. Society in general has moved or is moving toward respect for individual prerogative to informed self-determination, and the F24 Rider Eligibility Task Group is moving in the direction to support that.

Author: Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors engineering / ergonomics particularly applied to amusement rides and attractions (, and to broader occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.