ORLANDO, Fla. — The legal fight over access to Disney theme-park rides and attractions for people with disabilities shows no signs of ending, despite Disney winning a round in a federal suit in Orlando recently.

The plaintiff’s attorney in that lawsuit, Andy Dogali of Tampa, has appealed the loss to a higher court.

Dogali has filed dozens of lawsuits on behalf of people with disabilities or their families, alleging that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts discriminated against those with autism when the company changed its policies in 2013.

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U.S District Judge Anne Conway gave Disney a court victory on the issue in late April, tossing out a case where the plaintiff was identified only as A.L., a 20-year-old man living with autism. Dogali hasn’t outlined the issues of law on which he plans to base his appeal.

Asked for a response to the news that Dogali filed the appeal, a Disney spokeswoman wrote in an email: “Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests, and we fully comply with all ADA requirements.”

Dogali points out that the Florida Commission on Human Relations, a state agency, has found in favor of his argument; the new Disney program was a “blanket accommodation that did not take into account the nuances between various disabilities,” according to the commission findings, dated Feb. 13.

In 2013, Disney ended its previous program, the Guest Assistance Card, because the older program was abused by wealthy people who hired guests with disabilities to take them to the front of a line. The new program, called Disability Access Service, no longer allows people with disabilities to skip waiting, but it allows them to make a reservation in advance and avoid standing in line until that time.

The lawsuits allege that children with autism or other cognitive disabilities don’t have the patience required to wait for a certain ride — even if they are not waiting in line. Those lawsuits cite “meltdown behaviors” that sometimes force children and their parents to leave the parks.

The commission’s determination doesn’t provide for any immediate penalty or impact to Disney. But the finding does allow Dogali to add another count to his federal lawsuits — alleging that Disney violated the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Disney has denied violating any applicable laws, codes or regulations or that it discriminated, and said it went to great lengths to provide service to its guests with disabilities.

The DAS program has been used at Disneyland in California and at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Dogali said of Conway’s decision to dismiss the case: “The judge’s order is contrary to law, science and the facts. The decision to appeal is an easy one.”

Dogali said he is gearing up for trial in his California cases on the same issue. “At trial, I will ask the jury to assess punitive damages against Disney. I have no idea how Disney will process a jury verdict awarding punitive damages, especially in light of the number of potential plaintiffs,” Dogali said.

© 2016 The Orlando Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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