New Hurdle for Families of Autistic Kids Suing Disney

A new challenge was posed recently for the group of families suing Walt Disney Parks and Resorts over its policy changes for people with disabilities. A federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs must now file individual lawsuits.

Originally filed in California by the lead attorney representing the families, Tampa-based attorney Andy Dogali, a federal judge agreed with Disney attorneys that it should be moved from Los Angeles to Orlando.

“I had hoped to just have one (lawsuit) with everyone in it and filed in California,” Dogali said to the Orange County Register.

This latest development sets that back even further. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Judge Anne Conway said late last month that the diversity between the families is too much to handle in one lawsuit.

“The developmentally disabled Plaintiffs face differing cognitive impairments – ADHD, autism, Down syndrome, etc. – and their symptoms manifest in different ways and in response to different stimuli,” Conway wrote. “Some of the families appear to own Disney annual passes, and encounter (the new policy) frequently, while others claim to have visited a Disney park on only one occasion. The common law allegations are similarly diverse: some families bought one-time-use tickets, sustaining economic damages of only a few hundred dollars, while other families own Disney time shares or annual passes, or spent thousands of dollars on a Disney vacation. Some Plaintiffs visited Disneyland, in California, while most visited Disney World, in Orlando.”

The lawsuits began after Disney changed it’s disability policy in October 2013. Under the former policy, guests with disabilities received a pass that allowed them and their guests access to the front-of-the-line on most rides. Disney changed this policy to prevent abuse of the system, as they noted that some people hired disabled patrons as tour guides in order to skip the lines on some rides.

Under the new policy, disabled guests have their pictures taken and receive a Disability Access Service card which mirrors the FastPass system in that the disabled visitor and up to five guests are given assigned times to board a ride.

Dogali says this policy does not suit families with autistic children because some autistic children have meltdowns due to waiting and sometimes desire to ride the same ride repeatedly.

Disney released a statement on the lawsuits:

“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.”