April 5, 2014

CC BY by ross_hawkes
CC BY by ross_hawkes

On April 3, mothers of sixteen children and young adults with developmental disabilities filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney theme parks for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

They allege that the new accommodations under the Disability Access Service program, which was implemented in October 2013, does not adequately serve individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities who are unable to wait in long lines for an extended period of time. Autism Daily Newscast reported on a number of reactions by regular visitors at that time.

Prior to October 2013, individuals with disabilities were allowed to bypass the lines at Walt Disney theme parks and gain access to the rides immediately. The Disney Corporation changed this policy due to reports of individuals without disabilities who were abusing the policy by hiring or impersonating individuals with disabilities in order to bypass the lines.

Under the current policy, individuals with disabilities are not required to wait in lines, but they are given a time frame in which they can return to the ride in order to gain access. The time frame generally reflects the amount of time the individual would have spent waiting in line for the ride. For example, if the wait time for a particular ride is one hour, the individual will be given a pass that allows access to the ride in one hour’s time. The family is not required to spend the hour waiting in line, but may instead explore other areas of the park until the designated time is up.

The plaintiffs argue that this policy is not helpful, due to the nature of their children’s disability. Waiting is difficult, if not impossible, for some children with autism and other developmental disabilities, and it does not matter if the wait time is spent standing in line or not. Strategies that work with neurotypical children, such as distraction, generally do not work with children on the autism spectrum.

A child with autism will not understand that mom and dad are going to buy him a snack first, and that they will return to the ride in an hour. Being denied access to a ride that the child had been looking forward to will trigger a meltdown for many children with autism and related disabilities, even if they are not required to actually wait in line.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Andy Dogali of Tampa, Florida, says,

“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. .. anything other than that Disney willingly abandoned them.”

For more information about the lawsuit, visit the Dogali Law website at http://dogalilaw.com/disney-autism-ada-lawsuit.html.

Autism Daily Newscast would be interested in your thoughts and your experiences since the policy change. Please comment below.


About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog www.remediatingautism.blogspot.com. She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on https://twitter.com/speaking_autism and https://www.facebook.com/speaking.autism.ca

  • I actually greatly appreciate the new policy. My father has bad knees and cannot stand in one place for very long, since my pregnancy and his desire to be more mobile, he has taken to using a walker instead of the wheelchair he used for long adventures. He moves through the park slowly and surely, but the standing in one place greatly aggravates his knees. We’ve been able to go on rides that we had previously avoided that would have disability lines too long for him to stand in. And we were also able to have a more productive day, since rides with little or no line still let us immediately onto the ride. Bonus for being able to keep my pregnant body out of situations that involve prolonged sun exposure and heat exhaustion.

    • O and being given pregnant is not a handicap. Do not com pair the two. And being old is also not a handicap I mean really get your facts right

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