Disney makes disabled wait too long, suits allege
Capital - 2/29/2020
LOS ANGELES - Lawsuits against Walt Disney Co. are moving ahead in California and Florida, challenging how the company allows disabled people to access theme park attractions.
Both lawsuits, filed by the same lead attorney, Tampa-based Andy Dogali, accuse the operator of the world's most popular theme parks of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by making parkgoers with autism and other disabilities wait too long to get on a ride. In court records, Dogali says he has nearly 100 plaintiffs wanting to challenge Disney's policy.
Asked to comment on the lawsuits, Disney issued a one-sentence statement: "Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests."
The two lawsuits take aim at the 2013 decision by Disney to end a policy that gave visitors with disabilities and their family members a "Guest Assistance Card," allowing them to go directly onto rides, skipping long lines.
The lawsuits say the new policy is unfair because it treats all visitors with disabilities the same and that children and adults with autism might not understand the concept of waiting and taking turns and could become upset if they are forced to wait for a ride at a noisy theme park.
Disney representatives said the old system was scrapped because it was often abused by parkgoers who hired people with disabilities to accompany them into the parks to avoid the queues. Under the new policy, visitors with disabilities are given a card that lets them return to an attraction at a scheduled time to avoid the longest lines, similar to the system known as FastPass.
Most of the queues for Disney rides have been upgraded to be wheelchair accessible, leaving the new policy to primarily affect visitors with "cognitive impairments," such as autism, according to the lawsuits.
The lawsuits ask for legal costs and "other relief" that the court may choose.
"The disabled plaintiff, like other persons with cognitive impairments, is mentally and physically incapable of traveling across the park to the site of an attraction only to be told to come back later," according to the Florida lawsuit.
One of the lawsuits, originally filed in 2014 in federal court in Los Angeles on behalf of 26 plaintiffs, was transferred to a U.S. District Court in Florida because most of the plaintiffs complained about access to rides at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. A judge rejected a later request by Dogali to add 69 new plaintiffs with a total of more than 200 counts.
A second lawsuit, making similar allegations, was filed in 2015 in federal court in Los Angeles, targeting the access policy for customers with disabilities at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
A district judge in Florida threw out the Florida lawsuit in 2016, giving Disney a victory, but an appeals court judge sent the case back to the original District Court to rule on the fairness of Disney's policy for each individual plaintiff, said Eugene Feldman, one of the attorneys for the California plaintiffs.
Caption: Lawsuits in Florida and California say Disney violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel