Disney is facing allegations of discrimination, with a lawsuit charging that modifications to the company’s policy for accommodating people with disabilities at its theme parks violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The lawsuit filed last week by mothers of 16 kids and young adults with developmental disabilities from across the nation accuses Walt Disney Parks and Resorts of failing to accommodate their children’s special needs and of actively dissuading their presence at the company’s theme parks.
The move comes after Disney made sweeping changes to its policy for accommodating park visitors with disabilities last fall. For years, Disney had offered individuals with special needs a pass that often allowed them and their guests to skip to the front of long lines for park attractions.
Now, however, visitors to Walt Disney World and Disneyland can obtain a Disability Access Service Card which allows them to schedule a return time for rides based on current wait times. The system prevents those with disabilities from having to wait in line, but only allows visitors to schedule one attraction at a time.
Disney said the changes — which took effect in October — came after its existing system was “abused and exploited.” In their suit, however, the families allege that there was no abuse, but rather that the company wished to “cleanse its parks of what Disney views as the anti-Magic of such persons’ stimming, tics and meltdowns.”
The 180-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California details long waits and unhelpful interactions with employees at Disney parks. Moreover, the suit alleges that Disney won’t discuss accommodations with families until they have invested significant sums of money to arrive at a park.
In the suit, a mother known as M.B. alleges that she waited in line for an hour and a half to receive a Disability Access Card for her 6-year-old with autism who is referred to in court documents as A.B. Even though she offered park officials medical documentation about her child’s inability to tolerate waits, the mother says she was given no choice but to schedule a return time at “It’s a Small World” which A.B. wanted to ride repeatedly. After riding twice, A.B. faced another hour-and-fifteen-minute wait and entered a “full-fledged meltdown,” the lawsuit alleges.
In a separate case, the suit indicates that a mother known as L.C. tried to take her 7-year-old with autism, referred to as J.C., to Disney World several times since the new policy took effect. L.C. said her child has had multiple meltdowns after learning of wait times to ride “Peter Pan” and “Winnie the Pooh,” with J.C. falling to the ground or jumping up and down with arms spinning around. As a result, L.C. is no longer taking her child to Disney parks and does not plan to renew the family’s annual passes.
“Until recently, parents of developmentally disabled children universally adored Disney, because of the way Disney caringly accommodated their children,” said attorney Andy Dogali who is representing the families. “No reasonable mind could ever conclude, after investigating these facts and spending extensive time with these families, anything other than Disney willingly abandoned them.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Disney has a secret offering known as the “Magic List” whereby the company extends to select individuals five passes to gain immediate access to rides without even obtaining a Disability Access Card.
The families are seeking damages and are looking to compel Disney to alter its policies and practices.
In a statement to Disability Scoop, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts stood by their existing policies.
“Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests. We fully comply with all ADA requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit,” the company said.