Lawsuits by Families of Autistic Children Challenge Disneyland Policy for Disabled Guests

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts--which includes Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in Anaheim--is being sued over its new Disability Access Service policy.

And that has prompted a confession: I have been part of the abuse of the old Disability Access Service policy that led to its change.

How it used to work was anyone could go to Guest Services in a wheelchair (rented from the park or otherwise), claim to be disabled and get a special pass. The pass got that person and everyone in his/her party to the front of lines, even the most congested ones winding toward the most popular rides.

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On one trip to the Happiest Money Grab on Earth, we had a grandmother with us, and she truly did have knee replacements in her medical record. But she had also walked around the Magic Kingdom with us unaided. She usually chose to sit on a bench as the young 'uns waited an hour or more in lines.

In one of those lines--my memory is it was Indiana Jones Adventure--we watched as a large party with someone in a wheelchair blew past everyone and headed to the front. Eureka! Next time, we're getting granny a wheelchair and making her ride with us.

We got away with it a coupla or three more times before Disney changed its Disability Access Service policy in October 2013 because people were abusing it. Some were even hiring disabled people to accompany them, according to the Mouse.

Disabled guests now must have their pictures taken for a Disability Access Service card. Take the card to a ride, and the holder will essentially get the same thing as a FastPass available to anyone (before they run out). A FastPass reserves the holder and his/her party a time to come back later in the day (or night) and board a ride.

A FastPass does not actually get you to the very front like the old wheelchair bit did but into a much shorter line than the one everyone else is aging in as they slowly creep toward the front. For a Disability Access Service card holder, up to five guests for that single ride can come along. Passes for other rides must be obtained on a ride-by-ride basis.

That's where Tampa-based attorney Andy Dogali comes in. According to an Orange County Register story, he represents families with autistic children and their existing and planned lawsuits in federal court against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

The newest suit, which Dogali says he plans to file some time next week in federal court in Los Angeles, claims the company's new Disability Access Service policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. They allege autistic children are being discriminated against because some of them like to ride the same attraction repeatedly and may have meltdowns if they have to wait in lines over and over again.

A previous suit Dogali filed in LA seeks to reverse the Disney policy and award the plaintiffs monetary damages, but U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real just transferred the case to Florida because that's where half of the 26 plaintiffs reside, most of the complaints occurred at Walt Disney World and much of Disney's senior management familiar with the Disability Access Service program reside in the Sunshine State.

Dogali confided to the Register that Real's ruling will slow down the original lawsuit.

Disney, meanwhile, issued a statement defending its policy.

"Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests," reads the statement. "We fully comply with all ADA requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit."

Email: Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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