Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida are two of the most legendary theme parks in the world. But for some visitors with severe autism, Disney’s iconic parks are anything but magical. And now, the Disney Corporation wants to stop dozens of lawsuits from reaching court and tarnishing their image as a place where all are welcome.
Walt Disney Co. is petitioning the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to drop 30 consolidated lawsuits filed on behalf of people with autism. The plaintiffs argue that Disney has not adequately accommodated their disability and that the parks are lacking compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The lawsuit stems from Disney’s decision to no longer allow visitors with disabilities to skip to the front of lines, after it was revealed that some wealthy park goers would hire a so called “tour guide” —an individual with disabilities who could help their family skip lines — and a new system was implemented where visitors with disabilities need to reserve rides in advance, setting appointments.
Some individuals with severe autism require a set routine and waiting in lines can trigger episodes, or “meltdowns” as the lawsuits state.
The court determined in August that a trial would be required to determine if Disney had violated the ADA and had failed to make reasonable accommodations for their visitors.
In court documents, Disney argues that it’s impossible for them to prevent these meltdowns and that they have no legal obligation to do so. They claim the court’s decision to move the suits to trial “assumes that Disney somehow has the ability, let alone legal obligation, to prevent meltdowns with instant and unrestricted ride entry.”
“To impose such a standard on Disney and — inevitably — the many other places customers have to wait — sports arenas, restaurants, grocery stores, malls, doctors’ offices, movie theatres, and other theme parks — is thus not only untenable but also incompatible with the way places of public accommodation have operated for decades.”
Plaintiffs are asking for the creation of passes that would limit an autistic visitor’s wait times for rides to 15 minutes or less.
The case was resolved earlier with a lower court ruling in favor of Disney. But that decision was appealed, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the ruling before determining it should be sent back and would require a trial to resolve a number of issues left unresolved by the initial ruling.