More waterparks are coming up with creative ways to enhance the experience for guests who have special needs.
With a helpful new service, Dollywood’s Splash Country is among the latest to accommodate guests with disabilities. The waterpark – part of the Dollywood resort in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. – recently introduced accessible tubes for its 1,500-foot lazy river and wave pool.
Unlike conventional tubes, these are equipped with a seat to prevent guests with limited strength or mobility from slipping through the hole in the center.
Jordan Leach, aquatics and safety operations manager, became aware of the need for such a product when the mother of a child with cerebral palsy asked if they could use their own modified inner tube. He had to deny her request, citing safety concerns. Only translucent tubes that lifeguards can see through are allowed. Hers was opaque.
The woman emailed Leach later with information about a product she found online. It was a 36-inch tube with a built-in PVC “floor” covering the hole on the bottom side. She asked: “Would this work?”
Leach requested a sample from the vendor, Tube Pro in Waterloo, Ontario. The company also sent along an adult-sized tube with a detachable, adjustable nylon seat that it had created for a camp for children with special needs. Both types of tube were of the see-through variety that met Splash Country’s safety standards.
When the products arrived, Leach invited the woman and her daughter to take the accessible tubes for a test float. “Her daughter tried both of them out and fell in love with the one with the detachable seat,” Leach recalled. “And I think we realized ‘Hey, we might be onto something.’ ”
Splash Country contacted more families of special-needs children and adults to take the tubes for a spin.
“Again, we got rave reviews on those,” Leach said.
Splash Country now has 24 of each model available upon request.
Splash Country is joined by numerous other waterparks that have made strides to be more accessible to special-needs communities. Efforts include providing front-of-the-line privileges, calming zones, special events and sensitivity training.
“The aquatics industry is not stagnant,” Leach said. “There’s always something new we, as operators, can do to accommodate our guests.”