ORLANDO, Fla. — A South Florida man who was born without a right forearm and hand is suing Universal Orlando after a park manager a year ago allegedly told him he was “unfit” to ride anything at the company’s Volcano Bay water park because of his missing limb, according to a lawsuit.

What You Need To Know

  • Dylan Campbell blocked from riding raft ride
  • Suit: Park discriminated based on stereotypes 
  • ADA says parks can limit riders for safety

Dylan Campbell, 29, filed a federal lawsuit in Orlando against the company last week, alleging discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and The Florida Civil Rights Act.

The Coconut Creek man can do anything a person with two hands can do, including playing a wide range of sports from a young age through high school and pursuing a music career while working a remote managerial position and raising a family, his suit says.

“Campbell does not require any special accommodations to complete his job or additional daily tasks,” the lawsuit notes.

Campbell plunged from the park's tallest ride without any problem in May 2019. But the park would not let him go on a four-person, raft-style attraction that requires each rider to hold on with both hands.

A Universal Orlando spokesman this week declined comment because the litigation is pending.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Over the years, amendments and court rulings have expanded the scope of the act and helped define how it should be applied, though disputes continue.

The ADA, for instance, applies to tourist attractions, water parks and other places of "public accommodation." But in certain situations, the ADA allows park owners to implement policies with eligibility standards based on a person’s disability.

"One of the limited circumstances is when an individual’s disability conflicts with a legitimate safety requirement necessary for safe operation (Safe Operation Exception)," Attorney William Moorer wrote in a 2018 paper while working at the Mississippi Law Journal. The intent is to protect people from harming themselves or other riders.

"Most people are familiar with the phrase, 'You must be this tall to ride," wrote Moorer, who is not involved in Campbell's case.

Campbell retained Disability Independence Group, a Miami-based nonprofit disability-rights legal-advocacy group whose litigation director is attorney Matthew W. Dietz. 

His client’s challenge stems from a visit to Volcano Bay on May 10, 2019 for a large family gathering to celebrate his son’s 7th birthday.

Campbell's suit says he checked in advance at guest services and was assured he could ride anything at the water park.

Campbell even offered to sign a liability waiver, something a park worker said would not be necessary, according to his lawsuit.

After his family left guest services, they headed to the park’s tallest slide — the 125-foot Ko'okiri Body Plunge.

Riders plummet through a drop door at a 70-degree angle, splashing down in a supervised landing pool.

“The lifeguard waiting at the bottom of (the) slide greeted Campbell and asked him how he enjoyed the ride,’’ the suit says.

But when the family moved on to ride an unnamed “raft-style” attraction, an operator pulled Campbell out of line and said she would have to contact her manager because he was “unfit” to ride. She said riders have to be able to hold on with both hands, the suit says.

“When the manager arrived, he looked at Campbell,” the lawsuit states. “As he analyzed the situation, he stated that Campbell was ‘unfit’ to ride anything in the park. He stated that if Mr. Campbell had an arm at least up to his elbow then he would be allowed to ride.”

A second manager gave Campbell a map highlighting several rides he considered safe for the guest. All were rides that did not involve rafts.

Volcano Bay is discriminating against Campbell by imposing eligibility requirements based on “mere speculation, stereotypes of generalizations about individuals with disabilities” and not on “actual risks,” the suit says.

The park, the suit alleges, has no studies by ride manufacturers or provided any evidence that shows why such rules are needed.

“In fact, the industry standards for water rides at amusement parks contain no requirements for a person to be required to hold onto a raft with two hands,” the suit says.

The suit alleges the park imposed eligibility standards that screen out “any other person that does not have two forearms and two hands, from fully and equally enjoying its services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.”

The lawsuit is asking for a permanent injunction ordering Volcano Bay to ensure ride eligibility is based on “real risks” and not “stereotypes of disabilities,” along with proper staff training.

It also wants an order allowing Campbell to ride anything at Volcano Bay. Campbell is seeking reimbursement for legal fees and “any and all other relief that may be necessary and appropriate.”

Campbell suffered damages as a result of the park’s alleged discrimination, “including humiliation, loss of dignity, mental anguish, and other non-economic harm,” the suit says.

The case has been referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie R. Hoffman. A hearing has not been scheduled.