One of the biggest employers in the Sunshine State has been given a rather damning review by the Florida Commission on Human Relations when it comes to guests with developmental disorders. “There is reason to believe Respondent denied Complainant’s son the full enjoyment of the establishment because of a disability and a cause finding is recommended,” the state civil rights unit said about Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Made in mid-February, five determinations were revealed late last week (read one here and another here).
With the unit of the House of Mouse already facing a series of lawsuits from families with children with autism and other developmental disorders that visited Disney World since 2013, this could see a new claim added to those existing filings: a violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act. Additionally, Disney and the families could seek to work a settlement under the protocol of the Florida Commission. Sources close to the case tell me that the former is more likely as things stand now. Despite having made efforts to have the federal cases dismissed, Disney had no response when contacted by Deadline on this latest development.
The investigation by the Florida Commission certainly does not paint the welcoming image Disney desires or propagates. “While an accommodation was offered, it was a blanket accommodation that did not take into account the nuances between various disabilities or the fact that Complainant’s son’s disability required more assistance than other cognitive disabilities,” said the Commission’s determination last month on the case of the complainant who visited Disney World in Orlando with her child on December 18, 2013. “The accommodations offered would not allow him to enjoy the park as it was intended to be enjoyed by all other patrons. In addition, there was no effort by Respondent to determine a suitable accommodation for her son which would allow him to fully enjoy the park.”
“The DAS is a lousy system which accommodates only the highest-functioning autistic guests,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Andy Dogali after the Florida Commission’s determinations was made public. “For guests with moderate or worse autism or cognitive impairment, it creates a horrible experience,”
Citing violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, there are more than a dozen individual lawsuits currently before the federal courts against Disney. Originally filed as a single complaint back in April 2014, the now-solo lawsuits allege that the introduction of the new Disability Access Service at the company’s theme parks and resorts in October 2013 left the children and their families treated harshly by park employees, stuck in long lines to which their conditions are unsuited and caused unsettling “meltdown behaviors.”
Disney’s seemingly flawed attempt to fix abuse of its the longstanding Guest Assistance Card program was “certain to create discrimination against Plaintiffs, and it was obvious that the community of persons with cognitive impairments would be harmed by the DAS,” said one of the fourteen individual complaints filed in November 2014.
In the past, the company has denied the plaintiffs’ contention that there is so-called Magic List, which allows park patrons five immediate-entry, no-appointment ride passes.
The plaintiffs have said that if Disney won’t go back to the much-praised GAC program, allowing families with autistic children or ones with similar conditions access to the Magic List could go a long way to solving some of the problems they face at Disney World. Of course, if Disney says it doesn’t exist, then that’s a bit of a dead-letter office.