Special Needs Day at the 95th annual Mississippi Valley Fair was not so joyous Tuesday for children and adults who were turned away from several open rides.
Several employees of Evans United Shows Inc. of Plattsburg, Mo., which operates the carnival rides at the fair in Davenport, refused to allow any special needs people on some of the rides, including the Ferris wheel.
Fair director Bob Fox issued an apology late Tuesday to fairgoers who were turned away from the rides.
For one parent, Greg Dwyer of Bettendorf, the incident was a cloud over an annual outing he has enjoyed for a number of years with his 17-year-old daughter.
“It’s a good day to go because it’s less crowded, less cramped,” Dwyer said. “We went to the Happy Joe’s booth and got the special needs stamp, which we never had to have before.”
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They then went to the Ferris wheel, which, he said, his daughter has ridden for 14 years in a row.
The man at the Ferris wheel, Dwyer said, “saw us walking up the ramp and he starts shaking his head at me and tells me special needs kids can’t go on rides that go in the air.”
“My daughter knows what’s going on,” Dwyer, who co-hosts a popular morning radio program, said. “She wanted to get out of there. They made her feel less than human, in my opinion.”
Another parent, Genie Olson of Davenport, was at the fair with her three children and her brother and his son.
Olson and her brother each have a special needs child.
“We were trying to get on one ride, the ride that has the motorcycles that go in a circle, a kid’s ride,” Olson said. “They guy was extremely rude to us. He told us, ‘We don’t let those kind of people ride this ride.’ It was rude to say that in front of the kids. Then somebody came over and told him the kids ride free and that man took over.
“My brother’s son and my son, both who are 9, were denied getting on the swings,” Olson said. “They also told us that they don’t let 'those kind of people' on those rides.
“A lot of people were turned down for rides,” Olson said. “The kids saw all those other people on the rides and wondered why they couldn't go on them.”
Olsen said the special needs people save their money all year to go to the fair. “To be treated like this, I feel really bad.”
A representative of Evans United Shows could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
When the fair director learned of the incidents, he quickly issued an apology.
“We strive to make everybody happy, especially these kids,” Fox said Tuesday. “We don’t want to hurt these children in any way.”
Fox said there are height and weight restrictions for some rides that have always applied.
He said special needs guests who were turned away are invited back Sunday from 10-11 a.m. to “enjoy the fair as it should be.” Passes will be available at the fair office, he added.
Pat Repp, who operates North American Midway Entertainment, which runs an annual carnival at Moline's SouthPark Mall, said they have carnivals 10-12 times a year for special needs children.
"Some times we have to make judgement calls on what's safest for that patron to ride," Repp said. "But that applies to everyone. Some rides, like aggressive thrill rides that have shoulder restraints that have to be locked down, are not for everybody, no matter who it is. We always err on the side of safety."