Fifty-eight families which include at least one person with a developmental disorder such as autism sued the theme park subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company in federal court for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws. The families challenge Disney's Disability Access Service, or DAS, as it applies to them. Under DAS, a disabled guests is given an appointment time for an attraction, which Disney says is intended to relieve them of standing in line. But these disabled guests suffer from such severe challenges that they cannot know what an "appointment time" is. They do not understand the concept of time, or waiting. For them, waiting is not doing something in the present in anticipation of doing something else in the future. Rather, it is simply doing nothing in the present. And, due to the impairments created by their developmental disorders, they cannot endure extended periods of idle inactivity.
The plaintiffs uniformly assert that their developmental disorders prevent them from passively and idly waiting, regardless of whether the wait occurs in a line. Unlike non-disabled persons, the cognitively impaired person cannot idly wander the parks, killing time until Disney decides to let them enter an attraction. These guests persons cannot “browse” or impulsively “grab a snack” or come up with other activities to occupy their time. If forced to wait around doing nothing, an autistic person will invariably experience a “meltdown” which is beyond his or her control. Persons familiar with autism know that a meltdown is not a tantrum; while a tantrum can be stopped by giving a child what they're screaming for, an autism meltdown is involuntary and uncontrollable.
For a more detailed discussion of the claims, see the General Discussion of Disney's Discrimination Against Guests with Autism.
The most troubling aspect of these cases is that Disney knew before it unleashed the DAS that the DAS would create a horrible experience for autism families, and Disney rolled it out anyway. And, just as Disney expected, these families of severely challenged guests with autism have been having a miserable time. Disney does not care.
For a more detailed discussion of this evidence, see Disney's Intentional Discrimination Against Guests with Autism.
The Plaintiffs also allege that:
• There was no widespread problem of abuse of the prior system for guests with disabilities. If any abuse problem really existed, the above was not committed by persons with cognitive impairments. There is no reason to make children and young adults with developmental disabilities collateral damage by withdrawing necessary accommodations.
• The ADA requires Disney to provide individualized assessments of the needs of disabled persons with special needs, but Disney is training its employees to refuse to discuss individualized situations with disabled persons.
• Disney refuses to tell disabled persons anything about the accommodations which will be provided to them until they arrive at the resort, which deters families with disabled or autistic children from risking the investment of traveling all the way to the parks.
Until three years ago, parents of developmentally disabled children universally adored Disney, because of the way Disney caringly accommodated their children. The absolute joy their children felt and showed, for hours on end, was unattainable anywhere else. In late 2013 Disney rolled out a new system, supposedly to solve an abuse problem. But rampant abuse never existed, and, more importantly, these families never abused anything. And when Disney solved its so-called abuse problem by changing its rules for wheelchair access, there was no reason to change its rules for autism families too, especially by enacting changes which are cruelly discriminatory. No reasonable mind could ever conclude, after investigating these facts and spending extensive time with these families, anything other than Disney willingly abandoned them. Especially troubling are the positions Disney is taking regarding cognitive impairments and autism generally, positions radically contrary to common truths about the physiology of mental health. Disney is too smart to really believe its own inane and insulting statements about these persons’ impairments. Disney decided that deterring these families from visiting the parks is an acceptable sacrifice in the war against feigned abuse.