ORLANDO, Fla. — A federal judge has ruled in favor of Disney World after an Orlando disability advocate sued the company on behalf of her adult son with autism to get him immediate access to the FastPass lines at the theme parks.

It’s the first legal victory for Disney on the issue. Tampa attorney Andy Dogali said earlier this year he has filed about 60 other similar civil lawsuits in Florida and California that are awaiting trial.

“Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests. We are pleased with the court’s decision,” Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said in a statement.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The lawsuit came after Disney World changed its policy in 2013 in response to reports of tourists hiring people with disabilities and terminally-ill children to help them go to the front of lines and ride multiple times.

Out of the controversy, Disney created its new system, the Disability Access Service Card, or DAS, that lets people with disabilities get return times for rides, similar to a FastPass, so they don’t have to wait in a line.

Donna Lorman, president of the Autism Society of Greater Orlando, sued in Disney in 2014, saying she wanted 10 passes to the Magic Kingdom so her son could ride his favorite attractions by going directly into the FastPass line.

Otherwise, her son had to get an advance reservation to come back later. The extra waiting was hard for her son who didn’t understand the concept of time, his mother said, accusing the parks of not accommodating his disability.

But Disney argued it isn’t required to provide unlimited, front-of-line passes for every ride under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Otherwise, the general public in the stand-by lines would wait longer.

If guests with disabilities got two more re-admission passes, the standby line at Magic Kingdom’s popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster would increase by 39 minutes, from 69 to 108 minutes, Disney argued in court documents.

In a decision reached June 22, U.S. District Judge Anne Conway sided with Disney, ruling it was “unreasonable” for Disney to give such access to Lorman’s son. It would make Disney’s system ripe for abuse — again, Conway wrote.

“Requiring the modification, based on the history of the former system, would lead to fraud and overuse, lengthen the wait times significantly for non-disabled guests, and fundamentally alter Disney’s business model,” Conway wrote.

If Lorman’s son got special access, others would see it on social media and demand it, too, the judge said.

Conway said Disney could “recover its cost of action.” It’s unclear how much Disney’s legal bills are, but the fight lasted for years.

“To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. I really truly believe in what I was fighting for,” Lorman wrote when reached for comment last week.

Her attorney did not return a request for comment.

In February, the two sides went to trial, which revealed the extent of the fraud under Disney’s previous disability-access system that ended in 2013. Before, the Guest Assistance Card allowed guests with disabilities and their families to enter the FastPass line an unlimited number of times.

Alison Armor, vice president of transportation operations at Walt Disney World, testified she “personally witnessed in Guest Relations a guest reading from a script on her cell phone to get a pass; the information a guest needed to present to get a GAC had become commonly known on the internet, blogs, and different websites,” the judge wrote.

Armor said people went to the extremes of creating counterfeit GAC passes, posting Craigslist ads offering unauthorized “tours” of Disney with the GAC passes, or selling their expired passes online.

Some people with GAC passes rode the attractions over and over. Disney found GAC users rode Toy Story Mania, an arcade-style game at Hollywood Studios, 10 times more on average than visitors who weren’t using the disability-access system.

During the trial, Lorman testified that her son, who was 22 when she filed the lawsuit, has moderate to severe autism that made communication difficult and following a routine essential. Otherwise, her son, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 300 pounds, could melt down. At Disney, he needed to visit the rides in a particular order, she said.

Disney’s defense team said Lorman should have planned her visit better to adjust to the new rules.

In February, Lorman acknowledged winning the case was unlikely.

“We understand our chances wouldn’t be very good because we don’t have the funds,” Lorman said. “But it was the right thing to do for our kids.”

© 2020 Orlando Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.