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Autistic Man's Lawsuit to Gain Front-of-Line Access at Disney Theme Parks Moves Forward

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After a five-year legal battle, an autistic man’s lawsuit to allow people with disabilities to head to the front of the line at Disney’s popular theme parks finally received a trial date. Disney changed its disability access policy in 2014 because people were abusing the system.

In 2014, an autistic man named as A.L. filed a lawsuit against Disney World’s policy change for disability access at its theme park in Florida. Prior to 2014, people with disabilities were allowed to move directly to the front of the line at rides throughout the theme park. However, according to the Orlando Sentinel, reports began circulating online that some families “hired” people with disabilities to get around the policy.

Disney amended its accessibility program in 2014 to grant guests with disabilities a Disability Access Service Card. Now visitors can head to guest relations at the park to get their card, which allows riders with disabilities to schedule a time to return to a ride instead of waiting in line. It works similarly to Disney’s Fast Pass program which allows people to visit other areas of the park while waiting for their designated ride time.

A.L.’s attorney, Anthony Dogali, highlighted in the lawsuit that for many people with disabilities, particularly autism, it can be dysregulating and overwhelming to be told to return to a ride later. Dogali argued being told to come back to the ride can be perceived the same as standing in line for a person on the spectrum. In the lawsuit, Dogali indicated A.L. needs to follow a strict routine and travel through Disney parks in the same direction each time.

“The disabled plaintiff is mentally and physically incapable of traveling across the park to the site of an attraction only to be told to come back later,” the lawsuit said, according to WFLA. “This experience will induce meltdowns.”

A.L. is certainly not alone with struggling in large, crowded public spaces that are not designed to accommodate the needs of neurodiverse people. For people on the spectrum, some of the biggest triggers for a meltdown include crowded or chaotic spaces, too much sensory input like loud sounds and changes in routine.

Mighty contributor and parent Esther Dillard explained how Disney and long lines affect her son in the article, “3 Things to Know Before You Head to Disney With Your Child With a Disability“:

Many parents with kids on the autism spectrum understand when I say this isn’t him being impatient, but rather a sensory thing. If we are in a line too long, I have to leave the area or he will have a meltdown because of the overwhelming wait, the overwhelming crowd, or both. One time he even yelled to me, ‘I can’t breathe!’

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Anne Conway set a Feb. 18, 2020, four-day, non-jury trial date in Orlando, Florida, to decide the issue, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Dogali said he has 29 additional plaintiffs in Florida who want Disney to allow disabled park-goers to skip the front of line. He will argue a similar case in court against California’s Disneyland in March.

Originally published: October 4, 2019
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