Dollywood does a lot of listening. Sometimes we get questions about why we do things a certain way, or why we can’t bend a rule. I can tell you that no decision is made without careful thought and consideration. Today, I want to utilize our blog to share with you about a panel of folks (experts and Dollywood guests) whom we consult about our park’s accessibility.
For starters, it’s not as simple as thinking of things to do this Christmas. Every other month, Safety Manager Judy Toth meets with an advisory panel and they discuss issues pertaining to accommodations for Dollywood guests with disabilities and special needs. This group represents families who know the realities and challenges of autism, loss of limb/prosthesis, using service animals, and non-verbal loved ones visiting our park.
Judy leads the discussion, but the group members are the true drivers. They share experiences they’ve had and their thoughts on how we can improve. It’s a round-table-kind of conversation where these guests can share situations and challenges they’ve faced at Dollywood and elsewhere. Judy facilitates what is discussed, and she doesn’t let it end there. She looks at our systems and safety and seeks to take the feedback she receives to improve Dollywood’s policies and procedures.
The first thing we as a park must consider is safety. Families may be asking us to change rider requirements for people with a prosthesis, for example. The safety team has to look at each attraction’s manufacturer guidelines. If the manufacturer says someone with a prosthesis cannot participate in a specific ride because of legitimate safety requirements, then the research ends there. We will never deviate from what has been deemed safe by a ride’s manufacturer. If the request is not in opposition to a manufacturer’s guidelines, then we will consult regulations spelled out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. If there’s no conflict there, we can look into feasibility.
This advisory panel has been meeting since 2016—the same year we opened Dollywood’s Calming Room.
Some of the improvements we’ve made after hearing from our panelists include:
- Better awareness and accessibility training for Dollywood hosts
- Better signage and information (on the website and at the park) for guests who need special accommodation
- Better accommodation for seating in our theaters
- The addition of adult changing tables
- The addition of a social story on our website
Because we want to improve guest experience for ALL guests, we use opportunities to talk with folks from all walks of life to get the pulse on how we’re doing. We know we won’t be able to adjust accommodations for every family, but we promise we’ll listen and influence change whenever we can.
Click the following links to learn more.