Disney changed its disability policy in October 2013. At the time, Disney stopped issuing Guest Assistance Cards saying the current system was abused and needed streamlining. The Disability Access Service Card replaced the Guest Assistance Card.
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The California lawsuit claims Walt Disney Parks and Resorts US, Inc. changed its disability access program to benefit its own tour guides and to discourage people with “invisible disabilities such as autism from coming to the parks and upsetting other guests.” The suit alleges that publicity about changes to Disney’s disability program because of abuse was a convenient cover for these changes.
Details of the California lawsuit
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The complaint asserts that Disney should have known its new Disability Access Service Card was unsuitable for people with developmental disabilities such as autism.
The complaints states that Disney violated §51(b) of the California Civil Code, known as the “Unruh Civil Rights Act” and that Disney violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and thereby violated §51(f) of the “Unruh Civil Rights Act.” Some of the main allegations in the over 400 page complaint are:
1. Waiting in lines is difficult for families who have children with autism. Now, to get the new Disability Access Service Card, families must wait in line when they arrive at the park. Disabled guests must check in at Guest Relations each day of their visit meaning more time waiting in lines.
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2. The wait at Guest Relations is just the start of long waiting periods for guests with disabilities. Even though Disney says, “The Disability Access Service is designed for Guests who are unable to tolerate extended waits due to disability.” It negates this statement by specifying, “This service allows Guests to schedule a return time that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction. This service does not provide immediate or priority attraction access.”
Therefore, although claiming its purpose is to help people with disabilities and problems with waiting times, the service does not accommodate users by reducing waiting times. Instead, with the Disability Access Service Card, a guest waits in line to get an appointment for an attraction. However, there is no guarantee that the guest will get access to the attraction at that time. In addition, guests can only get one appointment at a time.
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3. Disney is discriminating against disabled guests by requiring them to be photographed at every 14-day visit. There is no such requirement for guests without disabilities.
4. By renaming the guest assistance card the disability access service card, Disney is stigmatizing guests with disabilities.
It will be some time before any definitive rulings are made in this case. However, in Florida the Commission on Human Relations found that Disney engaged in “unlawful public accommodation practices.” The Commission’s rulings resulted from complaints that Disney’s Disability Access Service Card did not offer reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities.