Man with Autism Files Federal Lawsuit Against Disney Regarding Disability Policies

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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.

(C) Matthew Cooper Photography – www.thetimethespace.com

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 WDWNT.com as the story progresses closer to the court date.

Featured Image: Matthew Cooper Photography (C)

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About the author

Megan Bresnan

Megan has fallen in love with the magic since the age of four and has been unable to leave the most magical place on earth! Having completed three college programs and visiting the parks many times growing up, she's proud to call Walt Disney World her second home.

Contact Megan at [email protected]

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Atomic Tomato
Guest
Atomic Tomato

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… Read more »

Jenny
Guest
Jenny

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… Read more »

Keith
Guest
Keith

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.

Monkeypoopants
Guest
Monkeypoopants

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!

Shaina
Guest
Shaina

Please tell the negative committee which meets inside your head to sit down and shut up.

Dennis
Guest
Dennis

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… Read more »

Sandra
Guest
Sandra

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… Read more »

Mr. Incredible
Guest
Mr. Incredible

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.

Kris
Guest
Kris

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… Read more »

Shaina
Guest
Shaina

People like you, give me a headache.

Jenny
Guest
Jenny

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… Read more »

Fred
Guest
Fred

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.

Jessica Messica
Guest
Jessica Messica

If you can’t handle waiting in lines, don’t go to theme parks

Shaina
Guest
Shaina

Absolutely my thought too Jessica!

Georgia R.
Guest
Georgia R.

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… Read more »

Shaina
Guest
Shaina

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.

Kris
Guest
Kris

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… Read more »

Seattleite
Guest
Seattleite

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.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

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.

Meg
Guest
Meg

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… Read more »

Susan Starkey
Guest
Susan Starkey

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.

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

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.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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… Read more »

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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.

Meg
Guest
Meg

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.

Mass Transit
Guest
Mass Transit

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.

Danie C
Guest
Danie C

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… Read more »