Parents urge Carowinds to change policy on special needs children

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Some Charlotte parents said they’re outraged with Carowinds after the amusement park changed how it accommodates children with special needs.

The park used to allow families of children with disabilities to skip waiting in lines and go to the front to board a ride.

They would usually be able to ride the very next time the attraction unloaded passengers.

Park officials told WSOC the policy was changed for the 2013 season at all parks owned by Cedar Fair, the parent company of Carowinds.

Now, families of children with disabilities will be given a boarding pass. When they approach an attraction, they'll be told to come back at a specific time, depending on the average wait time for the ride.

If a ride has an average wait time of 30 minutes, that means that family can return in 30 minutes and get on board immediately, without waiting in line.

Children with special needs will avoid standing in lines, but still must wait, or find something else to do until it's time to return.

Matthews mother Traci Carpenter has a 3-year-old son with autism. Carpenter said she has signed a petition urging Carowinds to return to its earlier policy.

“He fights every day to be as typical as possible and to fit in the rules of everyday society. All I need is just a little extra help for him,” she said.

Carpenter said the earlier policy works better. She said they will no longer be able to go to the amusement park.

Carowinds said the new policy is about fairness, and providing equal access to the park for all guests.

The park issued the following statement:

“In an effort to provide all of our guests with equal opportunity and access, Carowindsoffers a uniform boarding pass with an anticipated wait time for riders with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) and mobility impairments.

We are proud of our reputation for accommodating guests with all types of disabilities through our Ride Admissions Policy. As referenced in our Guest Assistance Guide, we offer a Boarding Pass to allow our guests with ASD and mobility impairments use of an alternate access to board our attractions with up to three companions. The boarding pass will allow a guest to receive a boarding time at attractions, which is equal to the anticipated wait time of a particular ride. By using a Boarding Pass, guests with ASD and mobility impairments are able to enjoy our attractions without having to wait in line.

We have worked with the Autism Society to develop information to better your day. Together we have created helpful information and tips to share with families living with autism so they can experience all the thrills of an amusement park and have a fun and memorable day for all. This information is available for families in advance of their visit on our website at www.carowinds.com under the "Plan a Visit" tab.

Guests that require the use of an alternate access entrance to enter a ride should visit Guest Services when they arrive at the park to obtain a Boarding Pass and a Guest Assistance Guide. Our staff is happy to help assist all of our guests so that they may enjoy their day.  Cedar Fair continues to review all of its policies and procedures to best serve its guests.”