Dozens of families attempting to sue Disney over changes to the disability access policy at its theme parks cannot proceed collectively, a federal judge has ruled. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Dozens of families attempting to sue Disney over changes to the disability access policy at its theme parks cannot proceed collectively, a federal judge has ruled. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

A federal lawsuit challenging broad changes to Disney’s theme park access policy for people with disabilities has hit a roadblock.

Earlier this year, 14 families of those with developmental disabilities sued Disney alleging that modifications to its access policy constituted violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Another 30 families subsequently sought to join the complaint.

Now, however, a U.S. district judge has determined that the families cannot move forward as a group given that the circumstances of their claims vary widely.

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“The developmentally disabled plaintiffs face differing cognitive impairments — ADHD, autism, Down syndrome, etc. — and their symptoms manifest in different ways and in response to different stimuli,” wrote Judge Anne C. Conway in an order late last month. “Some of the families appear to own Disney annual passes, and encounter (Disney’s Disability Access Service) frequently, while others claim to have visited a Disney park on only one occasion. The common law allegations are similarly diverse: some families bought one-time-use tickets, sustaining economic damages of only a few hundred dollars, while other families own Disney timeshares or annual passes or spent thousands of dollars on a Disney vacation. Some plaintiffs visited Disneyland, in California, while most visited Disney World, in Orlando.”

Going forward, Conway said that each family can file suit individually.

Attorney Andy Dogali, who is representing the families, tells Disability Scoop that he plans to pursue individual suits on behalf of each of the 44 families already involved in the case and intends to file claims for additional families as well.

The legal action came after Disney made significant changes last fall to the way it accommodates visitors with special needs at its parks in Florida and California.

Previously, individuals with disabilities and their guests were often able to skip to the front of long lines for park attractions, a system that Disney said was “abused and exploited.”

Under a new policy, visitors with disabilities can obtain a return time for one ride at a time, which is based on current wait times.

In the lawsuit, families claimed that they have faced lengthy waits and difficult interactions with Disney employees since the new policy took effect. Moreover, the suit cites cases of children with developmental disabilities who have experienced meltdowns allegedly because they could not handle waiting for rides.

Disney has vigorously denied the allegations, saying in court papers that “all guests with disabilities are provided the level of accommodation required by law.”