Gage Desjardins, 4, was denied access to the bumper cars at Centreville Amusement Park on the weekend because he couldn’t stand so as to have his height measured. Spina bifida has left him unable to stand or walk.
By Dan Taekema
Gage Desjardins is just like any other 4-year-old. He’s bright, energetic and loves to have fun.
That he’s in a wheelchair because of spina bifida, a spinal condition that leaves him paralyzed from the knees down, hasn’t held him back from being a regular kid at least not until a recent visit to Centreville Amusement Park.
According to his mother, Shayna, Gage and his father were in line to ride the bumper cars at the Toronto Island park last weekend when a staff member said Gage couldn’t go on the ride unless he stood up and met a minimum height requirement.
“My husband said, ‘My son can’t stand,’ Desjardins told the Toronto Star. “The employee’s suggestion was that my husband hold him by the armpits and let him dangle.”
Desjardins said kids were being measured against a “broom stick with electrical tape on the end.”
Shocked and angered, Desjardins said her husband asked for an alternative way of measurement and was informed that none was available.
He was then told to wait at the front until the ride was finished and carry his son through the ride and out the exit, she said.
“Unfortunately this exchange all took place in front of my 4-year-old, and all he’s hearing is, ‘I can’t ride because I can’t stand up,'” she said. “I was heartbroken.”
Tina Doull, director of marketing for William Beasley Enterprises, the company that runs the park, said she was aware of the incident and had interviewed the employee in question.
“It is a safety requirement for the bumper cars to be at a certain height, and that has no bearing on whether he’s in a wheelchair or not,” she said.
Dull added that all park staff undergo Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities training and that the park often hosts groups from schools and organizations with members who have disabilities.
The Centreville Amusement Park sates online that bumper car riders must be 4 and a half feet tall and passengers must be a minimum of 3 and a half feet tall.
Desjardins has measured her son and found he was 42 and three-quarter inches tall, just over the limit required.
Dull said, according to the employee, Gage’s disability was not noticeable and his father told the staff member that he thought his son was too short for the ride.
“Some of the comments that Mrs. Desjardins had made aren’t exactly how the incident happened,” she said.
The park has since reached out to the Desjardins family and offered them a free visit it’s an offer they have no intention of accepting.
Desjardins disagrees with the park’s account of the incident.
She said the ride was not accessible to her son’s wheelchair, so his father carried him in line, but even then, the fact he can’t stand is obvious because he wears noticeable leg braces.
As for the suggestion that her husband said his son was too short, she said that’s absolutely not true.
“If that was the case, we wouldn’t have even had this problem,” she said. “If that was the case, my husband wouldn’t have come out appalled.”
When told of Desjardins’ perspective, Dull maintained the account she heard from the park employee and said making kids feel bad is “against every practice of the park.”
“We make every exception possible to accommodate all of our guests that might have some form of disability,” she said. “But there are safety rules we have to follow.”
Desjardins said that after the incident the family quickly went to another ride to distract Gage, and he seemed to get over it quickly.
But his mother said she isn’t letting it go that easy.
“It’s a simple solution; all you need is a measuring tape, but that’s not a solution to them,” she said, crying. “It’s not like he was going to drive the cars; my husband was with him. He just wanted to ride the bumper cars.”