Man with Autism Files Federal Lawsuit Against Disney Regarding Disability Policies


Updated on:

Man with Autism Files Federal Lawsuit Against Disney Regarding Disability Policies


Updated on:

Man with Autism Files Federal Lawsuit Against Disney Regarding Disability Policies

A man with autism is suing Disney for its disability access policy. The issue has been in legal battle for five years, but now the case has a court date to go ahead to trial on February 18, 2020.

Magic Kingdom Jungle Cruise Entrance
(C) Matthew Cooper Photography –

Before 2014, guests with disabilities, including autism, were allowed to enter attractions with their entire group via a handwritten card. The most common use of the card was for alternate entrances. While sometimes these alternate entrances were just the FASTPASS queue (hence people calling it “front-of-the-line access” despite often having up to 20 minute waits), guests unable to use stairs or who needed a special ride vehicle were often sent to a different load area that often had much longer than average waits. Especially with rides with only one accessible vehicle (like Toy Story Mania and Kilimanjaro Safaris), the alternate entrance waits could actually be much longer than the standby line.

After a some speculation and online reports that some guests were hiring guests with disabilities to allow them expedited access to some of the most popular attractions, Disney made changes to this policy. The current policy allows guests to use a Disability Access Service card in order to reserve a ride time for their entire party to come back and experience attractions with relatively little or no wait.

The lawsuit going to Orlando’s federal court soon argues that for guests with autism, getting a return time is the same as being made to wait in the standby line, due to the difficulty of understanding the concept of time if the guest has a higher impact of disability. Tampa attorney Anthony Dogali states that “The disabled plaintiff is mentally and physically incapable of traveling across the park to the site of an attraction only to be told to come back later. This experience will induce meltdowns in the large majority of persons with cognitive impairments.”

The lawsuit continues to argue that Disney’s disability policy treats anyone with a disability the same, rather than acknowledging that some disabilities need different treatment.

Disney sent WESH 2 News a statement saying: “Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests. We fully comply with all ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit.”

For more updates on this story, continue to follow as the story progresses closer to the court date.

Featured Image: Matthew Cooper Photography (C)

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27 thoughts on “Man with Autism Files Federal Lawsuit Against Disney Regarding Disability Policies”

  1. There is no solution that will work for everyone, and it’s insane for people to expect Disney to allow front of the line access unilaterally. We have various disabilities in our family, and find the return system is great! It allows us to manage expectations within our group (one with severe autism), while still being fair to others.

    Theme parks aren’t for everyone, but Disney makes it so much easier for those who do access and see the world differently. We’ve dealt with meltdowns, panic attacks, and more within the parks and Cast Members have always quick to help and do their best to make our stay magical.

    • Well said. Theme parks aren’t for everyone. If you can’t wait and come back, maybe Disney isn’t the place for you. I get terrible hand and foot syndrome from chemo. I technically could get assistance and believe me there are days I wish I would have but I don’t find it fair to others. But this lawsuit seems crazy to me. They are giving fair across the board options. The minute you start making exceptions the exception list will grow so big. I understand autism can be very rough. But we all need to know our limits and in my opinion Disney goes above & beyond.

  2. A product of current society’s conflation of equal opportunity with equal outcome. Maybe Disney can have a separate line and entrance to cater to each and every disorder, disability, and personality trait. Better yet….they should have customized treatment for every race, age, and fabricated gender too.

    • You must be fun at parties. I bet you complain when people get to board the buses before you because they have a wheelchair or scooter.

      Keep making America great again chief!

      • Being on a scooter doesn’t make you disabled or in need of special privilege. Obesity, elderly or laziness are not disabilities. They rent them out to anyone willing to pay. I’m not saying there aren’t people that need them, I’m just saying a lot of people who use them don’t have an actual disability.

        and no, just because you’re in a scooter or wheelchair doesn’t not mean you should just be able to board the bus first. For example, the other night, we waited in the bus line at MK and missed the first bus due to the long line (had already waited about 15 minutes), then as the second bus pulled up, 2 scooters came strolling up as the bus pulled up and were able to instantly board first, with their entire family (6 or 7 people in each party). This caused us to miss the second bus as well. I can’t verify that they didn’t have a disability but they basically just looked like 2 old people who couldn’t be on their feet all day and needed a scooter. Which is fine, but why can’t they wait in line on their scooters like the rest of us on our feet?

        Once again for the overly sensitive people, I’m not talking about the people with actual disabilities who absolutely cannot wait in line because their life depends on it. I’m talking about the obese, old and lazy on scooters and I’m willing to bet that they greatly outnumber the people with actual disabilities on scooters.

  3. The disability access card allows the person to get a return time to enter the Fastpass queue and they have the same wait as anyone else in the Fastpass queue unless a person in the party cannot use stairs in which case they may have a long wait after sitting around waiting to get into line. This is what my autistic daughter and I have to deal with since I am a disabled senior citizen. And I cannot have my own disability access card even though every step I take is painful and the Fastpass line is shorter requiring fewer steps and is therefore less painful. The Disney folks told me to just use a wheelchair.

  4. There is nothing wrong with this policy. This just sounds like someone who is trying to take advantage of the system.

    Once again it’s…we have some disability…don’t treat us any differently from anyone else.
    Then when we are treated like everyone else…..We need special treatment because of our disability.

    Either you want special treatment or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

    • Do you, or anyone you love, live with a disability? Who is it, in your mind, who is saying “Don’t treat us any differently?” And what, to you, does it mean to not be treated differently? Certainly it can’t mean to treat blind people as if they were sighted, or to treat quadriplegics as though they were ambulatory. That would be absurd. So not being treated differently must mean something else, right?

      People with disabilities want to be treated like people, first and foremost. So, not being treated differently means not being treated like a non-entity. That often requires recognizing that a person with a disability is different from the majority in some way, which can require some kind of accommodation for the disability. The irritation with the concept of accommodations is palpable here, and across the Internet. This is an easy target for outrage. It would be easier for most people to ignore people with disabilities as a group — to whatever extent you can even characterize something so varied as this as a single group — and not spend any money, time, or energy on making sure they are treated like people by having equal access to the world. But equal access to the world is what not being treated differently is fundamentally about.

      The ADA mandates equal access to public accommodations. It does not require preferential treatment. However, equal access means different things for different people, and often a handful of broad categories of accommodation will suffice. (It disingenuous to conflate this with some slippery slope of needing a hundred different complicated options for every imagined variety of person.) Accessibility for people who use wheelchairs is different than accessibility for people who are deaf. Offering different responses to these different conditions does not equate to offering preferential treatment.

      Personally, I think that Disney currently uses systems for access that require a lot of extra work for people with disabilities, compared to what it is like for a typical guest to visit. When you combine that extra work with extra wait times, it begins to look and feel unfair.

      You know what the ideal is for my group? It’s what Disney has done in California Adventure, and on some newer queues like Winnie the Pooh and the remodeled Small World queue in Disneyland. These have wheelchair accessible lines as the standard queue for the ride, so that there is only one line for everybody, and we get in that line because a wheelchair can fit too. It’s so much easier than DAS, and it allows us to experience the park more like other families do, without special planning or limited group sizes that force the family to split up. I’m happy to wait for a ride. I don’t want to have to wait twice for a single ride when everyone else only waits once, or wait significantly longer than everyone else. I think that is a fair expectation.

      But they don’t do wheelchair accessible queues at every ride in every Disney park, and that one accommodation isn’t the solution for every disability. And DAS and return times can have a very steep learning curve, as the general policy is that you need to go to Guest Services/Guest Relations in person and ask for what you need, rather than having them reach out to offer their existing options to you. If you don’t know what to ask for, how do you even start? How well do you think the average guest even understands the difference between return times and DAS, or that two separate options even exist in this way?

      Disney trains cast members to expect that guests will ask “When is the three o’clock parade,” and yet this is how they handle accessibility. I am certain that this is something they can work on and improve.

      I know that line cutting, or the fear of someone getting special treatment and getting to skip lines, is the major source of animus here in the comments. Personally, I don’t know what it is like to live with someone with autism or severe cognitive delays. But I know what I’ve lived, and I know what my Disney trips have been like, and I know that improvement is possible. This does not have to be all or nothing, all winners and losers. Disney is a big company employing a lot of creative people, and they can find a way if they have the will to do it.

    • I’m 35 and have a disability. I don’t ask for special treatment. I’ve never even asked for the disability card. I get hand & foot syndrome from my chemo. One of my last visits all of a sudden my feet started to burn. Every step I took was like walking on hot coals. I could hardly walk. A CM sat with me because I was upset and honestly had no idea how I was gonna walk back to the monorail. She saw my bright red almost blistered looking feet, my mediport and actually suggested to look into the DBL policy for my trip (this was day 1).
      I know not all disabilities are the same but we should be happy they offer us some assistance. And some way to make our stay magical. I’ve yet to give in and use it but I know st some point I will. Then everyone will point and say, hey look at that “young” girl playing the system.

  5. To be clear here, this guest isn’t being denied access to rides, discriminated against, or being treated poorly. They’re suing in federal court for the right to skip the line of their favorite rides because they “don’t understand the concept of time”. I sympathize with the fact that they’re severely disabled, but this seems like the ultimate in entitlement.

  6. My 25 yr old son is on the Autism spectrum and has difficulty with time. His brain is forever locked at the age of 12/13. I had to learn the hard way back in 2008 with our 1st visit to come prepared. All I had was my phone 📱 with no portable charger! Well, I quickly invested in to 2 of those priceless gadgets and made sure both of our phones were completely charged each night, the portable chargers were charged up, and I happened to remember to bring from home the cards from Disney Trivia Game, so packed a few of them away in our park bag with the pad of paper 📝 and pen from the room for tic tac toe. My son was easily entertained while we had our short waits either in the Fast Pass Line or the Disability Line. Quick thinking mom here saved her son from many meltdowns. MORAL OF THIS STORY — just because a company has services ready for those with disabilities, it is still up to the parent/guardian of the disabled one to have a back up plan or a plan to work hand in hand with the company. It is NOT completely up to the company to accommodate the disabled. It is up to the company to make things easier, not so the disabled can glide thru life!! So if anyone has trouble understanding this, I’m on Disney’s side 💜 with this lawsuit. This family should know better and is trying to use the child for financial 💰 gain. Makes me sick 🤢 …..

    • Georgia, well said, and I wish more people were just like you, you seem like an amazing person with an amazing outlook with the challenges parents face with children with Autism.

  7. As the parent of a child with disabilities who has made several visits to Disneyland, I have to say I hope this case moves forward toward some productive outcome. We often wind up waiting considerably longer to ride an attraction than we would if my daughter were able-bodied, because of their current system, and it feels punitive. For context here, the Disability Access System is different from the “return time” system used for people in wheelchairs. For my family, DAS requires significantly more daily planning and effort to use compared to the return time system. In my opinion, both of these systems penalize people with disabilities, as if easy disabled access to the park would confer some sort of imagined “undeserved” benefit.

    My daughter is physically unable to walk and requires a wheelchair or special stroller to get around the parks. The problem is, at least for Disneyland, many rides require both a wheelchair return time AND a wait in a special line. So you get a return time added to your ticket by walking to the ride and having your ticket scanned, and then you wait as long as you would in the normal queue before coming back to use the return time. Then, after you have already waited as long as other guests have to wait, they stick you in a special line for guests with disabilities, and you wait even longer.

    Jungle Cruise and Haunted Mansion can be bad, but Space Mountain takes the cake. If you want to know what it’s like to wait almost 3 hours to ride Space Mountain when able-bodies guests only have to wait 45 minutes, take a wheelchair to Disneyland on a Saturday. Cast members at Space Mountain treated us like we were trying to sneak in, while we were in the special line at the exit, after we had gone through their whole return time process AND officially checked in with them and got in the special line at their direction. It’s chaos. That wheelchair line is where magic and hope goes to die.

    We should only wait once, and we shouldn’t wait longer than able-bodied people. Give us a return time or a wait in a separate line, but not both.

  8. If “The disabled plaintiff is mentally and physically incapable of traveling across the park to the site of an attraction….” then how is the disable plaintiff able to make it to the ride in the first place?

    Seems like the family of the disabled man is suing because they can no longer skip the lines. I understand that it’s hard to wait in line, especially with a mental disability, but if they don’t want to wait in lines, then there are other vacations. Theme parks are all about waiting 30+ minutes for a 3 minute ride.

  9. the real issue in Disney are the motorized carts for fat people. fat lazy people who cant move but have no problem going max speed on a motorized scooter.

    • Some of us “fat lazy” people on the motorized scooters are not LAZY. We are riding motorized scooters due to severe injuries, injuries which often preclude us from doing the rigorous exercise that would possibly enable us to “just lose weight.” Should this keep us from taking our families to Disney? I am always embarrassed to ride on the wheelchairs, and that humiliation comes because I know that nasty people like you are looking at my large body and assuming I am riding because I am lazy and unmotivated. I hope that you never experience a life altering injury that leaves you dealing with ignorant, arrogant, and hateful remarks from strangers.

  10. I’m glad to be on the high end of the spectrum and I don’t mind waiting as long as I have my phone. Like for example last year in Epcot I was waiting in line for Soarin and Frozen Ever After and I came from a Football city like Buffalo and it was a Sunday I watched parts of the Bills Jets game in New Jersey via Facebook while waiting in line.

  11. As a special education teacher we teach our students to deal and cope with real life events such as waiting as the world will not give them a free pass to the front, they have to learn to cope and wait, it’s a life skills. Disney should not have to accommodate this for fear of meltdowns if we are teaching the person valuable life skills.

  12. I have extremely bad limited mobility with severe back pain. On a good day I can only spend a few hours in the park before the shooting pains start in my legs and back. With the long wait times to return to the rides for access I am unable to wait for the rides a lot. I agree that there are people that abuse the system. This hurts the people that really need it. One more thing…. I get very angry at the inconsiderate people that use the handicapped bathrooms when they obviously do not need assistance. I wish that disney would use the magic bands to only allow people in them that are disabled.

    • One more thing. Disney makes things that I never though I could do possible. For example parasailing on their island by the ship. The employees help when needed. All you need to do is ask and if it is possible they make possible. Thanks Disney.

    • Kelly, just because someone looks able bodied does not mean that they might not need the handrails in the handicapped bathroom stall. My mom looks perfectly “normal” yet the toilets in the handicap stalls are taller and they have bars to hold onto, and she needs them. Stop judging people by what you THINK they need.

    • I’m pretty sure that restrooms only need to be made accessible with certain features to aid the handicapped. They’re not the same as a signed parking spot which is off limits to anyone without a handicap.

  13. As the mom of a kid with Autism, I understand where he’s coming from. You walk to the entrance and expect to get on the ride then have trouble comprehending why you can’t. But I don’t agree with him that you should get front of the line access. Perhaps Disney can find a way to assign return times from gues relations for those who struggle with this as well. Or even through the app as long as you’re within the park when you do it. I also question the merit of this entire thing because it’s not an issue that affects all with Autism. My son understands wait times. He cannot handle the close quarters with others for extended periods. So a return time works just beautifully for us.

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