Mr & Mrs Brett holding their two children, standing in front of their Christmas Tree at home with big smiles.

Sebby Brett .v. Merlin Entertainments Limited (Theme Park had a policy of requiring guests to prove they could walk before being allowed on rides )

Facts

8 year old Sebby has a condition similar to Cerebral Palsy, which means he cannot walk even short distances without help.

As a family treat after a string of surgeries for Sebby, Mrs Brett booked a weekend at Legoland Windsor (LLW) for their family.

On 28 September 2019 they went to board the LEGO NINJAGO ride.  Sebby was asked by a staff member to show he could walk three steps. They were told that they would not be allowed on the ride unless Sebby complied, as it was part of their wider Health & Safety procedures.

With some considerable discomfort, and with the pressure of having to do so in full view of the queue, Sebby managed the three steps, holding on to his Mum with one hand. He took his seat on the ride. Despite that, a different member of staff situated in Ride Operations instructed the Ride Manager that he also required him to do it again, so he could also view him walking and make a further safety assessment. This further drew attention to Sebby and caused delays on the ride which were obviously caused by the exercise. The family were shocked and distressed but did their best to hide that from Sebby and his sister Lottie.

It was obvious that Sebby felt humiliated by the whole experience. He asked his parents, “Why would anyone ask someone disabled person to walk? It was so hard and upset me”.

When Mrs Brett complained about this, she was initially told that it was for agreed evacuation processes which are part of the wider Health & Safety procedures of the ride. They state:

“Guests must be able to walk at least 10 metres without the assistance of a mobility aid or person to access the ride unit which may include navigating stairs. In the event of emergency, you will be required to walk down up to 80 stairs and walk sometimes over uneven surface without assistance.”

The Law

This is how we argue our case:

Pursuant to section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 Sebby is disabled; his disability is a protected characteristic.

Pursuant to section 29 of the Equality Act 2010, LLW is a service provider.

In providing theme park facilities, LLW is providing a variety of services within the meaning of section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”). LLW is therefore obliged to comply with the provisions of section 29 including the obligation to make reasonable adjustments in accordance with section 20 of the Act.

By failing to provide equipment and resources necessary to assist Sebby with access to rides, and evacuation from them LLW discriminated against him in the following ways:

By applying a policy directed at disabled people using wheelchairs only, LLW subjected Sebby to direct discrimination contrary to section 13 of the Equality Act. Only people using wheelchairs appear to be challenged in respect of both access to rides, and evacuation from them.

Without an auxiliary aid in the form of appropriate equipment and care, disabled children with mobility impairments face a substantial disadvantage in accessing the service LLW provides; LLW failed to take reasonable steps to provide such auxiliary aids. Failure to do so placed Sebby at a detriment in that he was unable to access rides without being forced to walk at extreme discomfort, or at all, contrary to section 20(4) of the Equality Act 2010.

This constitutes disability discrimination contrary to section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 in that it is a failure to make a reasonable adjustment in breach of section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 and less favourable treatment arising from Sebby’s disability contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010. The duty to make reasonable adjustments is an anticipatory duty and, in any event, LLW had actual knowledge of Sebby’s condition but disregarded it.

In addition, we believe that LLW indirectly discriminated against Sebby by applying a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) which places him at a substantial disadvantage by reason of his disability and failing to take steps to avoid that substantial disadvantage. The policy of requiring that guests must be able to walk at least 10 metres without the assistance of a mobility aid or person to access a ride unit which may include navigating stairs is the PCP in this case.

Further and in the alternative if that PCP is capable of justification that LLW has a policy of requiring that disabled guests must demonstrate that they can walk at least 10 metres independently to access each ride.

Reasonable Adjustments

Our case is that LLW could have made reasonable adjustments to these policies and practices, which would have avoided the disadvantage that Sebby suffered as a consequence of their application.

Such adjustments, pursuant to ss20 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010 would include:

Providing a management system allowing for assisted evacuation to disabled people, including those with mobility impairments at each ride, and generally within the theme park. In the event that the PCP is capable of justification it would be a reasonable adjustment to assess disability only once during the day rather than for that to be repeated, and for disabled guests to be notified of the requirement prior to booking.

Outcome

Following some very positive and constructive discussions with the in-house legal team at Merlin Entertainments, often out of hours, terms of settlement were agreed (without admission of fault) as follows:

  • The requirement for disabled guests to walk 10 metres or up steps is removed from the LEGO NINJAGO ride with immediate effect, and from all other rides apart from one by the end of March 2021.
  • £1,000 of Lego for Sebby
  • £1,000 of Lego to be donated to a school, or charity of Sebby’s choosing;
  • Refund of the initial stay;
  • A new VIP Stay for Sebby’s family to a part of 8;
  • A model of Sebastian, his sister Lottie and his parents to be added to Miniland at LLW, together with a duplicate set for Sebastian to keep;
  • £5,000 to be donated to Small Steps Charity, that had helped with Sebby’s strength training when he was younger.
  • Provision of Lego Land staff training as to Disability Awareness developed in conjunction with external experts Open Inclusion and the amended evacuation protocols prior to 31 March 2021;
  • Mandatory ride specific training in respect of revised protocols at Lego Land shall be completed by each ride operator before they are able to work on the ride, prior to 31 March 2021 and

We were especially pleased that agreement was reached so early into the legal process, and want to thank the team at the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort for being prepared to look again at their policies and for making such a massive positive change. This made a huge difference to The Brett Family and thousands of other families who can now look forward to better access and inclusion at theme parks.

Case Handled by Chris Fry

Photo of Chris Fry in trade mark white shirt and blue jacket

About the Author

Chris Fry

Chris is the founder of Fry Law.