Disney Faulted In Disability Access Complaints
A civil rights commission has found reason to believe that Disney discriminated against theme park visitors with developmental disabilities after altering its disability access policy.
In five cases, the Florida Commission on Human Relations has found that “reasonable cause exists to believe that unlawful public accommodation practices occurred” at Disney parks.
The panel’s determinations, dated Feb. 13, but released publicly this month, represent a blow to Disney. The company has insisted that proper accommodations have been offered to guests with disabilities despite making significant changes to its access policy in 2013.
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Previously, visitors with disabilities at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida could obtain a Guest Assistance Card, which often allowed them to skip to the front of long lines for rides and other attractions. However, under the current policy, those with special needs can instead receive a Disability Access Service Card entitling them to schedule a return time, which is based on current wait times, for one park attraction at a time.
Following the change, dozens of families sued Disney arguing that the new system violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by inadequately accommodating the needs of their children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Currently, suits brought by 44 families are pending before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Some families suing Disney also lodged complaints with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The families alleged discrimination in violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act arguing that Disney’s policy change left their children prone to meltdowns and unable to enjoy the theme parks.
“While an accommodation was offered, it was a blanket accommodation that did not take into account the nuances between various disabilities or the fact that complainant’s son’s disability required more assistance than other cognitive disabilities,” the 12-member Florida commission said in its findings to one family, which was nearly identical to the determinations provided to four other families.
“The accommodations offered would not allow him to enjoy the park as it was intended to be enjoyed by all other patrons. In addition, there was no effort by respondent to determine a suitable accommodation for her son which would allow him to fully enjoy the park,” the civil rights panel found.
The commission does not have any enforcement authority, but can act as a mediator, said Frank Penela, communications director for the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Penela said he’s unable to comment on specific complaints, but indicated that a finding of cause can add leverage if the matter is pursued in court.
“If we find cause, it usually gives them a little more meat to their case,” Penela said.
Attorney Andy Dogali, who is representing the families, said the findings bolster their legal efforts.
“The commission collected a great deal of information, and its findings are perfectly consistent with the allegations of all of the plaintiffs against Disney,” Dogali said. “The (Disability Access Service) is a lousy system which accommodates only the highest-functioning autistic guests; for guests with moderate or worse autism or cognitive impairment, it creates a horrible experience.”
Disney representatives did not respond to a request for comment from Disability Scoop, but told the Florida Commission on Human Relations that the company did not violate any laws and went to great lengths to provide service to visitors with disabilities.