Goals and challenges

Simply stated, the goal is to see that every visitor enjoys their time at Hersheypark. To do that, the facility has made a commitment to offer services that enable every person, regardless of abilities, to have a memorable experience. This commitment has meant making changes, and not only in terms of policy. Training had to include an accessibility component to increase staff understanding about the needs of guests with different abilities.

How they did it

This 110-acre complex in Hershey, Pa. contains an amusement park and a waterpark. The latter is celebrating its 10th anniversary, while the rest dates back more than 100 years.

The property boasts another distinction: To ensure that every guest enjoys his or her time at the facility, it has made accessibility a top priority.

“We’re here to make memories and remove barriers,” says Aquatics Manager Scott Silar.

The ride-accessibility program is key. Guests with special needs are asked to first review the Rider Safety and Accessibility Guide online before their visit. Upon arrival, they enroll in the Ride Accessibility Program and fill out a questionnaire. Based on the answers, a boarding pass is generated, with a list of rides the guest can enjoy during their visit. A wristband is issued to help staff identify and better assist the program participant.

Guests can use their own wheelchairs in the park. For attractions featuring a zero-depth entry, an aquatic wheelchair will be provided free of charge. New this year are specialized lazy-river inner tubes with seat bottoms for those who need extra support.

Management has provided for other considerations as well: Quiet locations throughout the property provide relief from sensory stimulation, which is helpful for guests with autism. The facility also includes climate-controlled areas.

Various dining options are available at the restaurants. Food choices account for allergies and dietary restrictions, and specialty food items such as gluten-free and vegetarian choices also are included.

To keep all of this running smoothly, the staff undergoes special training. Supervisors and frontline employees take part in an accessibility component as part of their annual training. Full-time managers take ongoing training.

To assist in developing these programs, Hersheypark partnered with Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania, an organization that provides peer support to families of children and adults with disabilities or special needs. Representatives of that organization can bring a unique and helpful perspective to Hersheypark’s staff training. For example, panels sometimes provide insights on the needs of the differently abled.

“Parents of folks who are challenged give us ideas, and we bounce ideas off each other,” Silar reports