March 13, 2003
By DENAE D'ARCY
6 News Anchor/Reporter
PIGEON FORGE (WATE) -- A group called Access Now recently filed a lawsuit against Dollywood, saying the park is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens said he was unable to comment specifically about the lawsuit because he had not yet read it. However, he did say such a complaint has not been leveled against Dollywood before.
He added that the park responds to all complaints as quickly as possible.
"For a long time," Owens said, "we've also had a barrier removal program where as barriers are identified we remove those barriers for any folks with disabilities."
Owens went on to say the park is working with an expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"We retained the services of an expert in the Americans with Disabilities Act and we're going through the allegations. We'll answer the allegations later in the month."
Former congressman and chaiman of President Clinton's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Tony Coelho was in Knoxville Thursday night. He helped write the Americans with Disabilities Act while in Congress.
Coelho says claims filed against a theme park can mean a number of things, but usually end up with the same outcome.
"Any lawsuit against any theme park or amusement park or any type of facility like that, I think the impact is this -- that that particular facility needs to understand they need to comply with the law." Coelho said.
Fifty-four million people in the U.S. have disabilities. The law says if you are disabled you have the right to participate and gain access just like everyone else.
"With a lawsuit filed, hopefully that theme park and other theme parks understand that they have to comply with the law just like everybody else," Coelho said.
For 18 years, Dollywood has welcomed visitors with permanent disabilities into the parks for free. At the end of this month, Dollywood will give its response to the lawsuit.
6 News tried to speak with Access Now, but a representative said they did not want to comment at this time.
According to the organization's web site, it has 700 members in 39 states, including a mini-chapter in Tennessee. The group has filed lawsuits against hospitals, businesses and city governments across the U.S.