Sunday, October 27, 2013

guest blog: Haunted Houses! Do Not Enter for Fear of Poor Access

Hey friends!! I have been out of town for 10 days and although my mind is reeling with fun adventures to write about, [Example: I saw baby turtles being born, ya'll!] I am still in vacay mode and would prefer to lounge around drinking a Bartles & James (a leftover from the beach) and catching up on my DVR'd shows that I've missed [Tangent: Like I don't know who won Project Runway yet!]

My priorities clearly are out of whack so luckily, I am handing over my reins to a perfect stranger who volunteered to write for me. Her name is Emily Buchanan and you can see her work here. She works for Chartwell, a wheelchair and mobilty aid insurer. She said she would write about anything I wanted of course I opted for something concerning the MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR!

As much as I love being scared to the point of incontinence, I have always hated haunted houses [Tangent: I got scared by one given by the YMCA when I was in 4th grade, and have never looked back.]. Not only do I NOT enjoy having ghouls and goblins getting all up in my business, they are horribly un-wheelchair friendly! It's something I have wanted to touch on for years so I am glad it's getting written about! Without any further ado, here's Em's take on haunted houses:

Haunted Houses: Do not Enter for Fear of Poor Access

 Love it or hate it, Halloween is more popular than ever. From Fright Nights to Haunted Houses, Zombie Runs to Grave Yard Gore Fests, the season of pumpkins and pranks has become a booming industry – grossing $1 billion in the US alone.

I, for one, am pulling the bed sheets around my ears this time of year. I’m a bit of a wimp and by “bit of a wimp” I mean that I STILL can’t close my eyes in the shower since watching the Grudge in 2004. As it goes, the general public does not share my delicate disposition. It’s estimated that 4,500 Halloween attractions open their doors in the U.S every October, some temporarily and others in permanent theme parks. Whilst I can appreciate their realism and their attention to detail, the only real issue I have with these haunts is their unashamed snub of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Indeed, many organizers seem mightily put out at having to accommodate everyone. One such organizer took to a haunted house forum to express their frustration, in a post aptly titled “Haunted house vs ADA.” In it they wrote, “We just had our first year and it was extremely successful, we did however run into some snags. I think that our biggest one was havin the building dept tell us that we needed our facility to be wheel chair accessible [sic].” Should accessibility ever be called a snag? I think not.  The ‘FrightmareFarms’ owner continues: “I was wondering if there was any information that would help us haunters maybe be able to get by without having to spend tons of money and completely change the layout of our haunted barn?” Whilst one member of the forum nobly tells the ghoulish cattle herder to change their attitude, the question digs up a number of complicated issues surrounding ADA law, complicated issues that I shall herein try to explain…

The reason so many wheelchair users are stuck for choices at Halloween is because the guidelines are easily misinterpreted (read: overlooked). "Any new haunt has to be fully accessible," says Chartwell Insurance, "but if they're doing modifications to an existing facility, the accessibility requirements are much lower." This means that any haunted house functioning from a “grandfathered” building (one that requires historical preservation by law) is not expected to install ramps and lifts. However, this also means that any haunted house functioning from a premise that is anything less than brand new can get away with wheelchair unfriendliness. After all, many of these attractions pop up for a few weeks and are held inside modified retail spaces or old abandoned buildings. It’s very easy for them to go under the radar.

Reassuringly, I’m not the only outraged party. "It's shocking to me that it’s been 23 years since the birth of the ADA and our society continues to blatantly ignore it,” says Chris Miller of The Mobility Resource. “This issue is especially prevalent during holidays. Sure, it may take a little more effort and money to make a haunted house ADA-compliant, but most people don't realize there are huge tax credits for modifications." He’s not wrong. To incentivize ADA, the IRS gives businesses a 50% tax credit towards the costs and generally speaking, most of the “brand name” haunted houses have already seized this opportunity. For example, Universal are happy to report that all of their attractions are fully accessible and the same can be said for most events aimed at children. However, if you don’t want to attend a watered-down version of the Nightmare Before Christmas or spend upwards of $80 for a ticket, what else is there?

An extensive Google search for ADA-compliance revealed the following haunts. I’m sure there HAS to be others out there? Does anyone know of any?

1. Halloween Ball at the Haunted Hotel, Colorado

2. Savage House, San Diego

3. Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens, Florida

4. Hanover House of Horrors, Massachusetts

5. 13th Door, Colorado

6. Fear City, Chicago

Whatever you get up to this Halloween, I hope you have crazy amounts of fun. As for me, I’ll be hiding in the cupboard under the stairs until spring.


  1. I was at a haunted house once that was circus themed. (Terrifying.) To add to the topsy turvy feeling, they had us going up and down ramps and platforms and things all over the place, while evil clowns jumped out and attacked. At one point, I encountered a ramp with a bit of a gap from the platform we were on. I wasn't sure I could make it across. So then the clown that had jumped out a moment before figured out my dilemma, and totally broke character to help me over the gap. Appreciated the help, but kinda lost some of the illusion. :)

  2. These guys have been around since 2008 or so. They used to run ads saying they were ADA compliant. I just asked them on their FaceBook page if they still are.


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