Walt Disney Parks and Resorts today denied allegations in a lawsuit filed by families of children with developmental disorders that the company has caused them suffering and violated the American With Disabilities Act. The 57-count complaint (read it here), filed last week, seeks damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief for violations of the ADA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. “Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests,” a Disney Parks and Resorts spokesperson said today. “We fully comply with all ADA requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit.” The scathing legal action filed by 16 children and young adults with autism and other developmental disorders and their guardians and parents contends that Disney’s recently implemented Disability Access Service violates federal and state law and is completely unsuited to the needs of individuals with such special needs. Disney disagrees. “Our Disability Access Service is designed for guests who, due to certain disabilities, cannot tolerate extended wait times at attractions. In circumstances where the service might not meet guests needs, we work individually with guests to ensure we are able to accommodate them,” said the company in a statement.
The 176-page complaint also alleges that, at the same time Disney moved to the DAS system last October, the Parks and Resorts division created a secret “Magic List” program that could actually help solve a lot of their concerns. “The Magic List is a secret list of persons to whom Disney will automatically extend, without the stigma of a ‘Disability’ card, and without a mandatory photograph, and without the newly-ingrained disrespect of Disney employees, five immediate-entry, no-appointment ride passes,” says the April 3 filing in federal court. “The Magic List does not perfectly accommodate the special needs of all persons with cognitive impairments, but it is considerably better than the recklessly inadequate DAS card,” it adds. “Disney is withholding the existence of the ‘Magic List’ from the broader community of families in which someone has a cognitive impairment. By doing so, Disney continues to deter families from visiting the Parks or making plans to do so.” While Disney has a Make-A-Wish Foundation program that provides front-of-the-line access among other privileges, the “Magic List” the plaintiffs allege seems to be something very different. A WDPR spokesperson denied to Deadline any knowledge of the so-called Magic List
Introduced last fall as a replacement for the longstanding Guest Assistance Card program in an effort to curb scams — such as well-heeled patrons hiring disabled individuals to travel around Disneyland and other parks with them so they could get on rides without waiting — the new system now results in long waits for rides and often results in “meltdown behaviors,” the plaintiffs claim. The complaint also says that once-helpful staff is now inadequate and “robotic” in dealing with such disorders, resulting in various cases of breach of contract and emotional distress. “Disney’s knowledge is so extensive, and Disney’s new Disability Access Service is so obviously discriminatory and so outrageously contrary to Disney’s own knowledge of such guests’ special needs, that it is inconceivable that the Disability Access Service’s discriminatory impact upon Plaintiffs is an accident,” says the filing from lawyers Andy Dogali of Tampa, FL and Eugene Feldman of Hermosa Beach, CA.
It was different at Disney’s six stateside parks and resorts before the change, plaintiffs and their families say. “The Plaintiff parents and guardians uniformly acknowledge that, prior to about October 9, 2013, taking their child to the Disney Parks was one of the few experiences, if not the only experience, which would bring obvious joy to their disabled child for many hours in a row, a notion very uncommon outside Disney’s magical worlds,” says the complaint. “Prior to October of 2013, Disney’s system for accommodating disabled persons’ special needs was universally enjoyed and appreciated by the community of persons touched by cognitive impairments.”