Netherlands-based theme park Efteling has created a VR experience of one of their popular non-accessible attractions — allowing disabled visitors to experience the roller coaster as their friends and family do.
Droomvlucht, meaning “dream flight” in English, is a magical journey through the mystical realm of fairies and woodland creatures. The attraction is a dark, enclosed ride, similar to It’s a Small World in Disney Land, but encapsulates the theme of fables and folklore that inspired the creation of the park in the 1950s.
As magical as the ride can feel for some, many of those with disabilities have not been able to experience the magic for themselves — especially those in wheelchairs. Now however they will no longer have to miss out as Efteling is offering a VR experience of the very same ride.
Virtual Droomvlucht replicates the real-life ride to those in wheelchairs while connecting them to friends and family on the ride so they can still talk to one another.
“Until now, VR has often been used for individual experiences,” said Fons Jurgens, Efteling’s President and CEO, in a statement. “With the use of other techniques such as audio equipment, we have created a group experience that completely stands in line with Efteling and the theme park’s values.”
The Dutch theme park even goes so far as to make the experience feel real by simulating the music, wind and scents of the ride.
“I am so happy to be able to experience this,” said Annemarie Verbunt, a regular visitor at the park. “I’ve been looking forward to the day that I could experience Droomvlucht for 25 years. Virtual Droomvlucht really is a complete sensory experience, thanks to the smell and wind effects but also the contact with my friends who are on the gondola.”
Theme parks are continuously becoming more accessible, especially for those in wheelchairs. In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides guidelines for how amusement parks can construct rides, miniature golf courses, bowling lanes and other attractions to be an accessible entertainment option.
Parks also often try to accommodate guests with different abilities too. Like Efteling, which offers discounted tickets and wheelchairs for guests with a disability. However, when it comes to redesigning classic theme park rides to be more accessible, it often isn’t possible due to concerns over safety.
“Nobody wants anyone to be excluded — and nobody wants anyone to be hurt,” said Kathryn Woodcock, director of a theme park-focused ergonomics lab at Ryerson University in Toronto, to The Orlando Sentinel.
VR could become a great alternative for opening up experiences, like older amusement park rides, to participants who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.