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Disney Wants Disability Access Suit Thrown Out

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Disney wants a lawsuit challenging its new disability access policy to be dismissed. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Disney wants a lawsuit challenging its new disability access policy to be dismissed. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Disney is fighting allegations that changes to its policy for accommodating people with disabilities at its theme parks are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a 93-page filing with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California this week, Disney rejected charges brought in a lawsuit earlier this year by the mothers of 16 kids and young adults with developmental disabilities who said they were not properly accommodated by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

The families alleged that visits to Disney theme parks became marred by long waits and unhelpful interactions with staff after the company made broad changes last fall to its approach for accommodating park visitors with disabilities.

Previously, individuals with special needs were provided passes that often allowed them and their guests to skip to the front of long lines for park attractions. Under the new system, however, those with disabilities can obtain a card which allows them to schedule a return time for rides based on current wait times.

The lawsuit cited cases of children with developmental disabilities who experienced meltdowns at Disney parks since the changes took effect allegedly because the kids could not tolerate long waits for rides, among other problems.

Changes to disability accommodations at Disneyland and Disney World were prompted by “widespread” abuse of the old system, Disney officials said.

In its point-by-point response this week, Disney told the court that it works individually with guests to meet their needs and said “all guests with disabilities are provided the level of accommodation required by law.”

Disney is now asking the court to dismiss the families’ suit.

“Disney was not required under federal or state law to provide unlimited, repeated, immediate access to its rides and attractions as the only available accommodation for purposes of reasonably accommodating plaintiffs’ alleged disability,” wrote Rhonda Trotter, an attorney for Disney, in response to the lawsuit.

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Comments (34 Responses)

  1. diane says:

    The Guest Assistance Pass did NOT allow front of the line access. The disabled guests and family members could access the fast pass que, a shorter line but still a line. The only guests with front of the line access were/are Make A Wish children. The DAS program has many flaws – the most common being inconsistent implementation by inexperienced cast members at Guest Services; additionally only one attraction can be on the DAS card at one time – however, using the DAS card in conjunction with pre-planned fast pass plus reservations can accommodate many differently abled guests, but makes planning, traversing the park to obtain return times, and other issues much more stressful for families with differently abled family members who are just trying to enjoy the Disney Magic and vacation along with non disabled guests.

  2. Nikki says:

    The Guest Assistance Pass is the only way we made it through both Disneyland and Disneyworld. Since our son has a number of issues, heart condition being one, standing in the heat for long periods wasn’t an option. Our pass did allow us to go to the front of the line by bypassing the general line and coming around the back or the fast pass line. Each ride was different. There were different levels of passes, each one allowing certain kind accommodations. We will just be going during the slow time since the fast pass isn’t an option for us (you are still waiting, just not in line) I hope Disney can reconsider there program and give more thought into how they can keep the system from being abused.

  3. Becki says:

    We just returned from a fabulous Disney vacation and used the guest assistance pass for our daughter. While the old system was a little easier to maneuver, it never presented a hardship. One tweak we’d suggest is to allow the pass to be used for up to two attractions at a time so that if you are waiting to go back to one attraction and find another attraction with a short wait time, you could use it for that one between. I think Disney did a great job accommodating our daughter, even with the changes. I don’t know of any other amusement park that makes similar accommodations.

    That said, unfortunately I personally know people who abused the old passes (which is INFURIATING!)

  4. amyh1965 says:

    Putting your name on a list and being allowed to wait out your time somewhere else seems like a fair compromise for those not able to stand in line. If the idea of waiting at all is intolerable and not being able to go directly onto a ride without waiting is going to cause a “meltdown” then perhaps a trip to an amusement park is not exactly a great idea in the first place. Accessible does not have to mean preferential.

  5. RB says:

    We went to Disneyland prior to the changes and after. The older system was abused and the shorter line did end up being quite a wait in some cases. However, the new system was more difficult to use with our child with Down Syndrome. We would ask him which ride he wanted and have the card signed. Often by the time it was time to ride he had changed his mind and couldn’t deal with the transition so we didn’t end up using the card much. What is nice about the new system is the photo of the person with the pass to ensure the person needing the accommodations is in the party. Additionally, those with ambulatory issues have the wait the entire length of the regular line. We noticed a huge reduction in the number of rented wheel chairs and scooters being used in the park – a huge sign that many were using them as an excuse to get a DAP and unfortunate for those who truly have ambulatory issues. Many of the employees in Disneyland were rude about the card, especially if we took the card to the guest services kiosk without our son. We tried as best we could to have him bring the card. California Adventure guest relations were a dream. They were truly helpful, friendly and non-judgmental each time we visited with our Park Hopper tickets.
    We would like to see the old system with changes of keeping the photo pass as well as maintaining the ambulatory persons wait the full length of the line. It is really and truly harder on those with developmental delays to make multiple transitions in a day. The older system was much easier for the person with the disability.

  6. Susy Woods says:

    I don’t think they are doing anything illegal. We talk so much what wanting to be treated equally as people with disabilities and yet this really is special treatment. Or do we want to be treated equally only when we don’t have to do things like stand in line and wait our turn?

  7. Amanda says:

    The DAS is meant to level the playing field, not make it better or easier than someone else. It’s a placeholder in the regular line. Since an able bodied guest would not be able to stand in two lines at once, the DAS doesn’t allow for that and I don’t see that changing as it would be preferential access.

  8. School Nurse says:

    I was disgusted by the way Disneyland treated one of my students’ families. Their child must have his medical equipment (including a suction machine and portable ventilator) with him at all times and the family uses a wagon to haul his heavy equipment around. It has never been a problem at other theme parks, except for Disneyland. They would not allow his wagon into the park. They instead made the family pay to rent a stroller for his equipment and pay to rent a locker to store his disassembled wagon in. Their beef was that a wagon is pulled rather than pushed. If that’s their policy I guess that’s up to them, but to make the family pay for the rentals was pretty rotten. Not very accommodating of them.

  9. Miss mama says:

    I agree with other poster that the 1 ride at a time is much of the issue. Recently we waited 45 min for pirates well we went back and the ride broke. Because it remained active on the card we couldn’t use the pass anywhere else so we ended up having it crossed off. So we waited for absolutely nothing. It made out waits longer than regular guests without a disability. I was not happy. They could have given a paper return pass or something but the rude cast members could care less.

  10. gina says:

    We went to disney with my son who could not walk and was in wheel chair due to a stroke in utero. The Cast Member were PHENOMENAL at not making us feel different……the ONLY issue we had were from the people in the regular lines calling out disrespectful comments about “disabled people” taking advantage. This was being said in front of my other children as well. I was SOOO upset that people were so hurtful towards a boy who had a stroke before he was born, could not walk yet, and had to wear a hot leg brace AFO and an arm brace! People are so entitled….DISNEY WAS PHENOMENAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Jessica L. says:

    I know that some people say its not equal for a disabled person to get to ride a ride with out waiting in the long line first but would telling them they had to wait so long be equal? Many disabled people cant even go to Disney world or land or even leave their home without help.

  12. Rosella A Alm-Ahearn says:

    Not only is their new system discriminatory, but what is REALLY discrimination is the FACT that DIsney will not hire any person with a disability at any park for any purpose. The excuse that they give is that the so-called guest relations would suffer if the person with a disability was not able to cope with any problem. However, work goes on at the parks at night when there are no members of the public present. No people with disabilities are hired even then, for night work. IT’S PURE AND SIMPLE DISCRIMINATION!!

  13. Anon says:

    Disney does not provide all disabilities access according to the law. Disney doesn’t even recognize diabetes as a disability, yet it is listed under the federal definition of disabilities! If you say you are diabetic, they will refuse you a DAS unless you get just the right cast member. In fact many people with similar disabilities get different treatment based on symptoms and which cast member they talk to.

  14. justthinking says:

    Well, the comments on here are refreshing. I fully expected to read a whole slew of people going on about how awful Disney is. While I would like to say, “Oh, how nice for your family that you have been able to AFFORD not only Disneyland, but Disney World ALSO,” to one comment, I am glad to read that it is generally understood that this is a non-issue. My son does not have a difficulty to manage, however, that does not mean that our wait in line should be extended by 15-20 minutes just because a series of disabled people show up and want to skip the line. Well stated by another person, perhaps, if this is so very difficult then it is not the place for you to go. There are things that people who have disabilities have to miss, and that stinks, but there are things in everyone’s lives that they have to skip. It is difficult, it is hard, we have sympathy for you, but that also has nothing to do with the thousands of dollars I have also paid, just like you, in order to go to the park.

  15. Dave says:

    Just because Disney made something slightly more inconvenient does not mean they broke the law.

    I recently let my annual pass expire, but in all fairness to Disney, they provide better accommodations for developmental disability than almost any other business that we visit. Disney has numerous “family” restrooms, thousands of friendly employees, and more than a few places where kids can withdraw to calm down.

    Their new system is more inconvenient, but it resulted from people (who had no disability at all) abusing the system. In California, for example, entire tour groups were told to walk up to the guest assistance area, and describe a fake disability. The tour group would then advertise their service as providing “fast-pass at all rides”.

    Instead of obsessing over Disney, maybe we could work on schools, cities, restaurants, gyms, and stores. When was the last time you saw a big-box retail store with a family restroom? When was the last time you heard of a mainstream private school even accepting an ASD child?

  16. Cathy says:

    One of the things that the articles does not mention is the abuse of the system when they allowed those with special needs to jump ahead of those that had been waiting in line. We waited in very long lines and were able to accommodate our inpatient son with DS and watched those that just walked up and were immediately accommodated making our wait even longer. I don’t see what the issue is with the new system as it still allows them to not have to wait in line. People were using wheelchairs, etc. to jump the line and when they allowed “the family” to step in front of everyone else, there was often 10 or more people in this “family”. If you have never been to Disney World, you just don’t realize how long a wait can be especially waiting in the hot sun. I think the new system is fair for everyone. A lot of this wanting over-the-top accommodations just makes it a hostile environment for people with special needs. I cannot tell you how many times we would see these people go from ride to ride able to ride 3 times the number of rides that we could while toting our son with DS along. Sorry but I am siding with Disney.

  17. Mary says:

    As the daughter of elderly parents who so enjoy their trips to Disney and can no longer ambulate the distances, the sister in law who watches his children push their 50yo dad with significant medical issues and disability through the parks and a Nurse- I would like to commend Disney for providing a place that IS so accessible- where else can the entire family have such an experience together ? Pools have lifts, buses with ramps, rooms and attractions with access, and staff willing to be hands on to help,etc. I have seen first hand year after year the graciousness of this company in helping to create a once in a life time vacation for individuals with even profound disabilities- a dream they and their parents hadn’t even dared to have was not simply accomodated but facilitated.
    It remains, despite the lines one of the best places to experience variety, fun and learning for every generation in the family.
    My inclination is that, if allowed to work this out Disney will seek the high ground to make their experience as accessible and reasonable as possible. That commitment has made them the company that they are- lets hope the people who take advantage of a system don’t drive this bus. Reasonable pre-arranged requests can be managed respectfully and effectively- do we really need litigation to solve all our problems ? The new bracelets and photos should make this easier and efficient.
    We experienced that it was not the staff at Disney that was rude but other vacationers that scorned those in wheelchairs, even those clearly disabled for the ‘priviledge’ of getting on the bus first or having a shorter wait- and there will always be those people unfortunately, who are so over entited that having a severe disability appears to them to be an unfair advantage.
    Thank you Disney for years of fun,family vacations.

  18. Arika says:

    We went in 2012 and yes the pass we got absolutely bumped up to the front of the line so I don’t understand the people saying it didn’t. Often times we entered through an entirely different door. I think the problem is they required to proof at all to obtain the special pass. I had a doctors note and everything but thy said it was illegal for them to ask people to prove they were disabled. I think it would have weeded out all the people just trying to scam not having to wait in line. Wish there was another way they could have adjusted that pass, rather than taking it away all together.

  19. Nina Jacobs says:

    I dislike the new system dramatically! There are only 4 set-ups for the DAS. There is MUCH more walking involved for a disabled person and family. They have more than 4 lands at Disneyland. So, we walk to the ride to see that the line is impacted, walk to the DAS, walk back to the line, go on the ride, walk to the next ride, go back to the DAS, return to the line, and go on & on. If I spend the $$ to rent a scooter/wheelchair I don’t need to go to the DAS…that makes lots of sense…the walking person has to walk the extra miles, and the scooter/wheelchair person get carte blanche.

    I agree that the old system wasn’t working. People rent scooters/wheelchairs that do not require them, rented disabled people to go with them for the access, and make up ridiculous stories to get the GAP. The cast members couldn’t inquire about the disability, nor was a disabled DMV identification of any use. Maybe there needs to be away to verify a person’s disability or a pre-order with verification. Something different needs to be developed. I wanted to join a suit too and I LOVE Disenyland with the top annual pass.

  20. Carol Harris says:

    Anyone who thinks giving a truly disables person specialized treatment needs to deal with disability on a daily basis. A lot of the attractions are not available to a person that is in a wheelchair and the few that are accessible are hard to participate in because so many people have access to wheelchairs that one wastes a lot of time waiting for a spot in the attraction. When we first started going to Disney World, one of us would wait in line and one stayed with our son until it was our turn. Maybe returning to that policy will discourage those who think they can get preferential treatment if they put anyone from their party in a wheelchair.

  21. Meredith says:

    I hear what people are saying about equality, and I, as a quad, wouldn’t mind waiting as long as the line demands, there are children who literally cannot handle waiting that long, and it isn’t because they are special snowflakes who won’t just be patient, it’s because their disability renders them incapable of self-soothing and just managing the duration of the wait. Making them wait somewhere other than the standard line isn’t any easier for them than waiting in the line itself. Again, I understand fairness and the equality expectation, but saying they need to wait or else a trip to Disney isn’t something they should do makes me sad for those kids (and their siblings). I hope the parks can figure out some middle ground, if only for cases such as this.

  22. VMGillen says:

    It would be appropriate to toss this suit… and normally I am a major mad-dog activist. My children have various diagnoses – the youngest would be the one who could not handle waiting on line, and frankly I would not put him, or the rest of the family, through the potential nightmare of a trip to any major theme park. If just being in the park makes the child seriously stressed out, and the family is likewise stressed out, what’s the point? Making him go (he doesn’t want to) because Disney has convinced everyone to worship the Mouse? Feh.

  23. AllisonWBrown says:

    I have to agree with amyh1965 here. Nothing in the law states that those with disability are to get front row special privileges. Sure, if they have something that could cause a melt down with large groups of people ( perhaps a extreme case of autism or something ) then it would be noted as Disney stated to accommodate them a little differently.

    I too believe that a future pass time would be beneficial but at the same time it shouldn’t be inconvenient and should be able to reap the same rewards as others. (i.e. same themes etc ).

  24. Nancy says:

    I have used the old and new disability system at Disney Parks. I wish they would just let you show documentation proving the disability and go back to the old system. I’m sure many abuse the system.

  25. Barb says:

    I have 2 adult age sons with disabilities. They want to be treated the same as “typical” people at the parks. This does not mean they should be given front of the line access on every single ride. We are able to use a separate entrance at some of the rides that do not have a mainstream waiting line, but we have never, even under the old system, been granted front of the line access, even when my one son was on a Make-A-wish trip. Some of the lines for wheelchair access often have longer waits than the regular line, such as Toy Story Midway Mania. We have always used the FP system like everybody else. Disney needs to get their act together and implement the system consistently for all people who might need a different waiting area, while the families need to plan ahead and get FP+ tickets like everybody else. There are many “typical” kids who cannot wait in line and have meltdowns in the park, too because it’s too hot, too crowded, the line is too long, etc. Should we give front of the line access to those kids, also?

  26. Lori Parker says:

    I was so sad to hear about the changes in Disney’s accommodations for people with disabilities. My son, who uses a wheelchair and has multiple physical diagnoses, (and we his family) had a marvelous time at Disney BECAUSE of the accommodations (before the changes). Otherwise, our son (and family) face the same LACK of ACCESS to fun that our son encounters EVERY where else! Disney was the ONE park where my son could ride, stay out of the heat while waiting and enjoy his day. Disney was able to accommodate him so he could also have the “dream vacation” that able bodied folks take for granted. We have taken our son to Elitch’s and to Sea World only to experience EXTREME discrimination (ie: a checklist of his physical abilities and limitations filled out by staff based on limited information and then a list of the rides they would allow him on based on “manufacturer safety guidelines.”) I appreciate Disney staying out of that disgusting protocol. They do not use that protocol for those with heart, neck or back conditions, although they post warning signs at the rides. While I support folks with some push back to Disney, I am more angry at those who took advantage of Disney’s generosity so as to cause Disney to change their policy on accommodating people with disabilities. I would love to see group action against the amusement parks that are using safety guidelines to prevent those with visible disabilities from enjoying rides. I am more angry by the previous mentioned experiences of those at Disney who have to endure crude comments about waiting longer in line because someone with a disability was allowed on a ride. I would recommend some PERSPECTIVE: try living your whole life not being able to enter buildings or friends’ houses because there is no accessible access, try waiting for bus after bus because your chair cannot move as quickly as a pedestrian and the buses quickly fill with ambulatory folks not leaving room for you, try watching folks repeatedly cut in front of you in a line because they discount the wheelchair and person sitting in it, try not being able to move from your bed to the kitchen or bathroom because your body doesn’t work, but our mind is aware. Those who wait another 10 minutes in line need to remember that the day at Disney is the ONE day and ONE place where someone with a disability has a little advantage in life. I hope that Disney will work through the glitches that their new system is creating and settle back in with a system that deters fraud and continues to encourage ALL people to enjoy “the happiest place” they have created. I would go back to Disney in a heart beat compared to other amusement parks.

  27. Sandra says:

    Although they could have handled the rollout of the new Disability Assistance cards better, I’m on Disney’s side on this issue. Our family, including two on the autism spectrum, visits Walt Disney World every year. We’ve found them to be more than in compliance with “reasonable accommodations.” A recent news article about people hiring someone with disabilities so they could skip lines caused Disney to realize that their own policies were not being followed and had created a situation where people believed that the Guest Assistance card was a front of the line pass. This was never true. The folks suing are trying to get special privileges over other guests, not the reasonable accommodations required by law. Not every experience in life is easy for everyone. There is no God-given right to go to WDW. But I feel Disney tries to do the right thing for all its guests, and we will continue to enjoy the welcoming atmosphere it provides for my family members with autism.

  28. Scott says:

    If you don’t like how they run things, then don’t go to the park. It’s that simple.

  29. Lynne says:

    We just returned from Disneyworld. Our daughter is 26 years old and has multiple physical and cognitive disabilities. We chose to purchase a Disney Vacation Club 10 years ago because Disneyworld was the one place where we could all go on vacation and have a great time. Well, not this time. Though I was well prepared and knowledgeable regarding the new system, we still went to guest services shortly after entering the park (in this case, Epcot) and got a DAS card. The new system allows any person visiting the parks to secure up to 3 “Fast Pass +” reservations each day. People with annual passes can reserve their spot on an attraction up to 30 days in advance. There were some attractions that we could not access at all because passes were no longer available (the new Dwarf’s Mine coaster), and many of the passes that were available could not be accessed until late at night. The DAS card posed a particular problem for us because we had to take our daughter with us to get the card signed, setting her expectation that she would be going on that attraction next. The new system is NOT friendly to people with physical and cognitive disabilities. On another note, however, we did see people still abusing the system. We were waiting in the disability area to access Spaceship Earth, when a large party with one elderly lady who was wheelchair-bound arrived in the disability area to board the attraction. The problem was they left the disabled woman in her chair in the disability area while the rest of them (about 8 people) boarded the ride through the disability area. They avoided the lines completely but nobody from Disney objected. What is wrong with this picture? Needless to say, I won’t be rushing to get back to Disneyworld anytime soon. VERY DISAPPOINTED.

  30. Neva says:

    As a parent of a child with developmental disabilities, I am appalled that Disney has decided to withdraw the support they have provided for years and are known for. Children with disabilities have limitations for many more activities in life depending on what they are diagnosed with and what their limitations are. They should be able to have equal access while meeting their needs as any other child. I won’t comment on the lawsuit, but I would like to say to Disney Shame on you and give back the chances you have always been known for and allow these children and families to be able to have the same opportunities as those without disabilities.

  31. Brandy Burke says:

    I have a special needs son and I would like to know how I can get in this lawsuit and how I can get in touch with an attorney. We went to Disney World 2 weeks ago and my son suffered a seizure and had extreme anxiety due to the new disability card

  32. David says:

    We went to Disneyland in December of 2013 with my severely disabled wife and young kids – it was a terrible experience! I paid for it in full a few months before the changes, so it was already nonrefundable. We had to leave a day early for her medical reasons. Cost us a fortune (on our limited income – it’s a fortune). We had a very long drive back home to get her calmed down and see the specialists.

    When I called the park’s customer relations a week later they were harsh to say the least. Pretty much said that we shouldn’t had bothered going if she has issues. When I spoke with the rep’s supervisor, who was more considerate, I offered to provide proof of her disabilities to back up my claims and they didn’t want it – cited a California law that prohibits them from receiving that kind of documentation. For Disney’s lawyer to say “Disney was not required under federal or state law to provide unlimited, repeated, immediate access to its rides and attractions as the only available accommodation for purposes of reasonably accommodating plaintiffs’ alleged disability.” is enough proof that Disney doesn’t want our patronage. I’m sure I’m not the only caregiver who was willing to provide medical proof of disability. Disney can do what it wants, but they should have said outright that they didn’t want us there and be willing to refund our money beforehand. Could’ve spent the funds on better things.

  33. Susan says:

    I am late in the game planning my first trip to Disney World and from most of what I hear the new DAS is FAIR and REASONABLE accommodation. The ADA does not give special privileges. The new DAS, as I understand, works like the FP or FP+ where you get a return time and do not have to wait in lines. There is a lot that does not need waits and that can be done during the waits. As an autistic adult, even I struggle with waiting, but guess what? It happens. And I have learned some strategies to help with the wait. I want to be treated like a regular person with reasonable accommodations that allow me to function like a regular person. I am not entitled to anything outside the parameter of the ADA which simply states that Disney has to provide reasonable accommodation. They do for those who are physically handicapped, hard of hearing, deaf, blind, or have special dietary needs. Three of these which I also have. I side with Disney understanding why they changed the system. I favor a system that allows the disabled who truly need accommodations providing documentation or at least a signed form similar to that which I have to do every 5 years for the DMV to get my handicap parking pass. I had to provide documentation for school, VR services, testing services for school, and to work. So why not for Disney so I can get fair and reasonable accommodations? As some others have said as well, and even my autism therapist said it, if the person is truly incapable of handling any kind of wait, then a theme park is not the best place for them to go. As Temple Grandin says, you need to stretch them. But stretching needs to be done over time, not all of a sudden in some line during a busy time of year at one of the busiest theme parks ever. Things will benefit me knowing the challenges I have: Take books to read during the wait. Take headphones to shield some noise. Take sunglasses to filter light. Take safe snacks. Take some fidgets to keep the hands busy. Go when it is not too hot for my physical conditions and less busy in terms of the crowds. And practice more while at home before I ever go on the trip so I will be more prepared to handle it when there. Sadly, most parents of both disabled and typical children tend to forget these things and they push their children too much when their children are not really ready. And it has taken more than 30 years for me to even be ready. But I will still be able to enjoy it!

  34. Susan says:

    BTW, Disney is not by technical definition a “public accommodation.” Under previous determinations of public accommodations, churches were limited (and those should be accessible and safe but often are abusive and discriminatory), but theaters and theme parks were not because you had to pay admission to get in. So it will also boil down to the definition used.

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