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Thrill ride turned into humiliation for girl

Published Jul 14, 2010


By Botho Molosankwe

A Joburg family are fuming at what they call a humiliating experience for their daughter, who was told to get off a thrill ride at Gold Reef City because she was "disabled".

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They said the incident, the lack of signs at the theme park spelling out who is allowed on the rides and who is not, coupled with the way the matter was handled, had since made their daughter self-conscious.

Eight-year-old Jordyn Hanekom, her friend and many other people visiting the theme park were on the Jozi Express two weeks ago, waiting for it to start, when the operator said Jordyn had to get off because she had only one hand.

The pupil, who attends St Andrews School for Girls in Bedfordview, was born with an underdeveloped right arm.

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With people listening and waiting for the machine to start, Jordyn got off the Express and was so upset, she started crying.

Staff explained to the inconsolable child and her parents that barring Jordyn from the ride was a security issue - their policy was not to allow any disabled person on the rides in case they had to be evacuated in an emergency.

However, Katja and Lyle Hanekom said it would have spared Jordyn such a humiliating experience if there had been a sign at the entrance giving the theme park's "disability" policy.

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They found it "disgusting" that their daughter was ordered off the ride just as she sat down with her friend, excitedly waiting for it to start.

A suggestion by the parents that one of them accompany Jordyn was shot down.

The family claimed that when they bought the tickets, the cashiers clearly saw Jordyn's hand but they did not say anything.

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What happened was "unacceptable and discriminatory" because it was not as if people needed to hold on to anything while on the rides, because they were strapped in.

"The rides are secured by body braces and not arm, or in her case, 'hand' restraints," Katja said.

Surprisingly, the couple said, Jordyn had been part of a birthday party group who went to the same theme park the previous week and were allowed on all the thrill rides.

Katja said the incident had undone the eight years of drumming into Jordyn's head that her condition did not mean she could not do anything she wanted to do. She swims, plays the guitar, designs jewellery in her art class, and recently won a skipping race at school where she had hooked one end of the skipping rope to her other arm.

"On the way back from Gold Reef City, she lay at the back of the car crying, 'Mommy I wish I had two hands'. And the other day when we went to a store she hid her hand when she saw other children.

"Gold Reef City turned a family fun day into one of the worst days of our lives," Katja said.

Gold Reef have admitted they did not have signs warning visitors but said they had a disability policy on their website.

Dr Dave Ashby, acting general manager of the theme park, said they were guided by international theme park safety standards which required access to specific thrill rides to be restricted if it was believed a visitor might not have the physical strength and ability to safely evacuate a ride in an emergency, and without posing an increased safety risk to themselves, other visitors and staff.

He confirmed that Jordyn had been allowed on thrill rides a week earlier, which was a transgression of the policy, and as a result they were investigating the circumstances surrounding the family's entrance to the theme park.

"We regard such an indiscretion in a very serious light and will ensure that the appropriate action is taken.

"We will be introducing additional signage at each of the applicable thrill rides as well as the front entrance of the theme park," said Ashby.

That, however, is cold comfort to the Hanekoms, who were so aggrieved by the whole incident that they are no longer interested in going back to Gold Reef City.

"I would like to warn all parents with children who have 'special conditions' to inform themselves beforehand because Gold Reef City is incapable of doing so. Gold Reef City has definitely lost us, my family and our friends as customers," Katja said.

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