Disabled, Autistic Guests Allege Discrimination by Disney

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Autism parents announce the filing of a lawsuit against Disney alleging ADA violations and discrimination in Disney theme parks. Plaintiffs are represented by Eugene Feldman, of Hermosa Beach, California, and Andy Dogali, of Tampa, Florida.

On Thursday, April 3, 2014, mothers of sixteen children and young adults with developmental disorders including autism, filed suit against the theme park subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The action stems from changes made in October 2013, when Disney reversed its long-standing Guest Assistance Card program and replaced it with the Disability Access Service. Under the previous GAC system, Disney permitted disabled persons to board its rides without waiting. The new DAS system requires disabled guests to go all the way to the entrance of a ride to obtain a return appointment time, equal to the present standby wait time, and to come back at that designated return time. Disney 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.

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 they are allowed to 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.

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.

The action is pending in United States District Court, Central District of California. Case No.: 2:14-cv-02530

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Andy Dogali

Eugene Feldman
Eugene Feldman, Attorney at Law, APC
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