Disney is being sued for the changes they have made to their guests with disabilities policy in order to prevent abuse of the system. Here is the press release from the law firm that is leading the suit:
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On Thursday, April 3, 2014, mothers of sixteen children and young adults with developmental disorders including autism, sued the theme park subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company in federal court for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The mothers allege that their children loved visiting the Disney theme parks because their special needs were accommodated and the children were treated respectfully. In October 2013, Disney reversed a long-standing program which admirably accommodated their disabled children and replaced it with the Disability Access Service, which forces children who cannot wait in extended lines to endure protracted waits for each ride. Due to the very nature of autism and developmental disabilities the children physically melt down in such situations and the joy of a Disney theme park visit is destroyed. The plaintiffs allege that with the new DAS, Disney has created a horrible experience to replace the magical one it provided in the past.
Because persons with cognitive impairments cannot idly bide time in the long lines which have now become infamous at Disney parks, Disney long permitted disabled persons to board its rides without waiting. Disney’s new system requires the autistic to walk all the way to the entrance to a ride to obtain an appointment to return to the ride after the same amount of time has passed which would pass if the autistic guest were standing in line at that moment. Disney deliberately requires that developmentally disabled persons wait as long as non-disabled persons who stand in line; Disney no longer spares them the wait time, only the need to stand in line while waiting.
But the plaintiffs uniformly assert that their developmental disorders prevent them from passively and idly waiting, regardless of whether the wait occurs in a line. Unlike non-disabled persons, the cognitively impaired person cannot idly wander the parks, killing time until Disney decides to let them board a ride. Autistic persons cannot “browse” or impulsively “grab a snack” or come up with other activities to occupy their time. If forced to wait around doing nothing, an autistic person will invariably experience a “meltdown” which is beyond his or her control.
The plaintiffs also claim that persons with cognitive impairments are incapable of comprehending the experience of going to a ride and being told to come back later, even if only a short time later. This, too, will cause a meltdown.
The Plaintiffs also allege that:
• There was no widespread problem of abuse of the prior system for guests with disabilities. If any abuse really occurred, it was not committed by persons with cognitive impairments. There is no reason to make children and young adults with developmental disabilities collateral damage by withdrawing necessary accommodations.
• The ADA requires Disney to provide individualized assessment of the needs of disabled persons with special needs, but Disney is training its employees to refuse to discuss individualized situations with disabled persons.
• Disney refuses to tell disabled persons anything about the accommodations which will be provided to them until they arrive at the resort, which deters families with disabled or autistic children from risking the investment of traveling all the way to the parks.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Andy Dogali of Tampa, Florida said: “Until recently, parents of developmentally disabled children universally adored Disney, because of the way Disney caringly accommodated their children. The absolute joy their children felt and showed, for hours on end, was unattainable anywhere else. Disney rolled out this new system, supposedly to solve an abuse problem. But these folks never contributed to any abuse problem. And when Disney solved the so-called problem by changing its rules for wheelchair access, there was no reason to change its rules for autism families too, enacting changes which are cruelly discriminatory under the ADA. No reasonable mind could ever conclude, after investigating these facts and spending extensive time with these families, anything other than Disney willingly abandoned them. Especially troubling are the positions Disney is taking regarding cognitive impairments and autism generally, positions radically contrary to common truths about the physiology of mental health. Disney is too smart to really believe its own inane and insulting statements about these persons’ impairments. One can only conclude that Disney sees deterring these families from visiting the parks as a benefit.”
The 176-page complaint was filed in Los Angeles and contains dozens of stories of arbitrary and discriminatory treatment in the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, and the Walt Disney Resort near Orlando, Florida. The sixteen disabled plaintiffs and their parents reside in California, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.