Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Whom It May Concern.

As you can see from the photo, my husband and I visited your theme park this past Saturday. I've been to Great America numerous times in my life, starting when the park opened (in 1976 I was just a kid and it was called "Marriott's Great America"). I also happen to have type 1 diabetes, which I've successfully managed for over 25 years without complications. You might notice the black bag I'm carrying in the photo. This bag--a travel pack specifically made to strap securely to the body, much like a waist or "fanny" pack--holds my diabetes supplies. These include insulin, syringes, a blood glucose meter and glucose tablets for treating hypoglycemia. Being able to quickly test my blood sugar level and administer either glucose or insulin as needed is central to my self-care regimen. This bag is literally my lifeline, especially in a busy theme park like Great America. I must be able to access my supplies at any time; to lose this bag would be, quite frankly, life-threatening.

I had my bag on Logger's Run, as you can see in the photo. I also carried my bag onto the Demon (which I first rode as a child, when it was called the "Turn of the Century"), and encountered no incident despite the two upside-down loops the rollercoaster makes in its run. The Viper, with its 80-foot drop and maximum speeds of 50 MPH, also presented no challenge to my bag or its contents. However it is with great disappointment that I write to inform you of two other incidents that happened to me last weekend, both due to this bag.

My husband and I approached the American Eagle rollercoaster with great anticipation--this ride is one of our favorites--at about 3:30PM on Saturday, Sept. 28. We haven't been to the park for a year and were unaware of the fact that some rides, including the Eagle, now require "loose articles" to be left behind in lockers near ride boarding areas. A park employee stopped us and informed me of the rule. I explained my condition, and explained that my bag is a) not "loose", but strapped to my body and b) contains items that are medically necessary. The young lady replied that I must show medical identification in order to carry my bag onto the ride. I produced my MedicAlert bracelet, but she she stopped me again. She muttered something about "a manager has to approve this". However, instead of calling for management, she pointed to the lockers and told me I had to leave my bag behind if I wanted to go on the Eagle. I asked for her manager, but she had already walked away and ignored my calling after her. We were left to wonder at the inconsistency of her explanation without any offer of further assistance.

Because my husband and I wanted to preserve the previously happy atmosphere of the day, we declined to pursue the matter and, with great regret, chose not to ride the Eagle. After going on Logger's Run, we decided to go on the Whizzer, another old favorite, at about 4:30PM. We entered without incident and had already taken our seats on the rollercoaster when a park employee named Chris walked up to our car. He informed me that I had to remove my bag and leave it in an unlocked storage bin before being allowed to ride. When I again mentioned my need to carry the bag and identified my medical condition, Chris replied in a loud voice, "Well you're not going to have to shoot up on the ride, are you?" This comment was heard by everyone in the first half of the boarding area, and was made in a sarcastic tone that seriously offended me and my husband. I got out of my seat in disgust and left the ride. The park was closed to the public on Saturday to celebrate "Accenture Family Day", and my husband's work colleagues could very well have overheard Chris' remark and misinterpreted it. We left the park for good after this incident, our day having been effectively ruined by Chris' action. I shudder to think of how Chris would have spoken this way to a child with diabetes.

An unsecured bag storage area is a completely unacceptable solution for my diabetes supplies. As the ride has two separate trains, riders of the previous Whizzer train have unsupervised access when they return. My bag could have deliberately or accidentally been taken by one of these riders. Additionally, Chris' rude, ignorant remark made me wary of leaving my bag within his reach. Moreover, there was no signage prior to boarding the rollercoaster that indicated anything about "loose items"--which, again, my bag was not. A locker might seem like a solution, however insulin is highly susceptible to damage in hot weather and the lockers, while in shaded areas, have no ventilation or cooling system. Further, it turned me off to see another park guest encounter serious difficulty in getting her locker open after going on the "Dark Knight" ride; she waited over 30 minutes for a park employee to provide assistance, and though her locker was finally unlocked there was no explanation provided for the delay. If my insulin, money and source of glucose were to be locked away from me for 30 minutes, I would encounter significant trouble in regulating my blood glucose levels due to stress over the lack of access to my supplies. Therefore the locker solution, while admirable, leaves me unsatisfied.

I have no wish to reverse your policy on "loose items" on rides at Great America. I am sure there are valid legal and common-sense reasons for your restrictions (though I do find it absolutely incredible that an upside-down, multi-looping rollercoaster like the Demon has NO restriction on such items, whereas the Whizzer--a ride which is rated acceptable even for smaller children--has such a rule.) But the application and enforcement of your rules seems arbitrary and left up to the judgement of park employees, at least two of whom are clearly ill-equipped to deal with park guests who have disabilities. If a guest like me qualifies for special consideration under these rules, I expect park employees to be prompt and courteous in securing a manager if they have questions about that qualification. If a guest like me must indeed remove a bag before going on a ride, I expect the park employee handling the matter to treat me with respect, not make a callous, discriminatory remark that borders on slander.

For a couple or a family to truly enjoy Great America, there is little consolation in asking someone to stay off a ride for having a bag that is clearly a) NOT a toy, b) NOT a fashion accessory, or c) 100% essential to that person's health. What it does is make that person--me--feel left out and unwelcome. To me there is no longer anything "great" about Great America.


Ashley said...

You did send this right? Cause it needs sent. I can't believe they treated you like this! Agh! Absolutely uncalled for and ridiculous. Let us know when they send you appropriate restitution! Because I'm sure they will unless they want more letters. If it doesn't get fixed it will happen again.

Araby62 (a.k.a. Kathy) said...

Oh, you betcha :) First thing this morning!

Minnesota Nice said...

Ok. So I had to look up this place's website.
They appear to have thousands of guests each year and should have the means to accomodate everyone, for pity sake.
Maybe the letter should be sent to more than one person.
That's a very cute pic, incidently, but I get dizzy standing on a chair.....

Cara said...

I hope you get a reply from them. Since I started aggressively controling my diabetes, I haven't been to a theme park, but I can assure you that they would let me take care of myself or I would raise cain! I'm glad you sent that letter.

Jill said...

Excellent letter! Glad you sent it and hopefully it will make a difference. We live 30min from Busch Gardens and we take the kids regularly. I carry the backpack with the diabetes supplies, water, snacks, etc. and I dont have the issue with leaving it to get on rides because I dont ride them so I wait for the kids to get off at the end of the line....but Ive been searched before! Talk about being humiliated!! When you go in the gate they check all backpacks and when they saw the insulin needles I was asked to step to the side. They opened every pocket in my backpack and the whole time I was saying "She has diabetes! Look at her bracelet!" Finally after they finished they looked at her bracelet and let us thru. I had to giggle though cuz I remember the day the site of a needle would make me raise an eyebrow and now its just something we carry regularly and I have them stashed all over like glucose tabs...hahaha! Anyway...glad you spoke up and wrote that letter! You WERE treated unfairly and I hope they give you free passes to come back along with a note saying you have permission to ride with your pack :)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this because the same thing happened to me and my girlfriend. Nothing would acre me more than her to not have her supplies when needed at a moments notice. Regrettably i did send the staff an e-mail and they sent me some crap about their park history. Completely irrelevant to what i wanted to here. They really need to rethink their rules and regulations.