Disneyland, The Happiest Place on Earth for Everyone??
Disneyland is one of my favorite places in the world. Not only is it full of magical shows and attractions that immerse the guests in a world of fantasy and imagination, it is additionally a great place to casually hang out on the weekends if you are an annual pass holder like me! Known as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” the Disneyland Resort has always prided itself on its provision of services and accommodations for guests with disabilities, enabling all guests to enjoy the “Happiest Place on Earth” alike.  However, in October 2013 Disneyland changed their policy for handicap guests, which prompted a class action law suit by upset parents claiming that the new policy discriminates against guests with autism and other mental disabilities in violation of the ADA.  Disneyland is being accused of pushing away this distinct portion of the population, despite it being a place of happiness for everyone.
The initial suit was filed in the United States District Court of the Central District of California. The lawsuit claimed that Disneyland’s new handicap policy prevents guests with autism and other similar mental disabilities from enjoying the amusement park as much as non-disabled guests. In their complaint, the parents claim that this disparity is caused by the wait times disabled guests must now endure under the new policy.  Autistic individuals must visit the park in a precise order each time, and they cannot tolerate long queues because doing so would result in “meltdowns” (extreme agitation and anxious behavior) caused by overstimulation from extended periods of an idle, unfocused state.  This results in an overall uncomfortable and embarrassing situation for the surrounding guests, the guardians of the disabled individual, and, most importantly, the disabled individual him/herself.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The law applied here, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), states that an amusement park must provide its goods and services in a manner that is equal to everyone. Separate is not equal unless separation is required to afford those separated to have equal experiences.  Guests with disabilities should be as integrated into the rest of the non-disabled guests as much as possible,  and reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures must be made to accommodate those disabled individuals.  The main allegation in the complaint is that the Disney Theme Park Resort does not sufficiently comply with this law. 
Disneyland Policy and Why It Changed
The old Disneyland Resort handicap policy involved disabled guests receiving a Guest Assistance Card (“GAC”) at the beginning of their day, and whenever they went to any show or attraction, they were escorted to the front of the line so that the wait wouldn’t be more than a couple of minutes.  This way, autistic guests, who cannot tolerate long queues and also must always visit the park attractions in a precise order, could do so with great ease. 
However, in 2013 there was a widely publicized issue of guests hiring individuals in wheel chairs as “tour guides.”  These families would hire handicapped strangers and take them to the Disney theme parks with them to take advantage of their handicap status.  Once Disneyland got wind of this exploitive operation, it changed its handicap policy to in order to deter this distasteful practice. 
Under the October 2013 policy, handicap individuals visiting a Disneyland resort, are given a Disability Access Service Card (“DAS”) and in order to enjoy a ride, the individual must first procure a special ticket that has a return time, and then return at the specified time. The return time is equivalent to the regular standby wait time for that particular attraction at that time.  The issue with this new system is that it makes guests with disabilities first wait in line to get a DAS card, then wait in line at kiosks to get the special tickets, then come back at a later time to experience the attraction, and then wait in a queue (a handicap queue that is shorter than the regular standby line) before they can enjoy the ride.  This system results in handicap guests waiting for significant amounts of time before being able to enjoy a particular attraction. This is a problem because guests with autism have no ability to comprehend why they must come back later to experience a particular attraction that is immediately in front of them.  This denial of immediate access to an attraction and deviation from their predetermined order of attractions would result in an aforementioned “meltdown.”
The resort does state that if the current system does not fully accommodate a guest’s needs, they are more than happy to make special offerings on a case-by-case basis.  However, the Plaintiffs cite many instances when Disney has been less than understanding of a guest’s particular needs. 
Potential Consequences of This Lawsuit
If the court finds that Disney does violate the ADA, the handicap policy must be changed. As the complaint points out, it is virtually impossible to hire an individual with a mental disability (ex: autism) as one of these “tour guides” since these individuals must do things their way and therefore would not be very useful to those who hire them.  One can imagine a new rule where only those who are physically disabled would use the DAS system and those who are mentally disabled could use the old GAC system. However, there are many levels and types of mental disabilities; on the one end of the spectrum is autism which involves the aforementioned “meltdowns,” and on the other end of the spectrum is Attention Deficit Disorder (“ADD”) which does not involve such “meltdowns.”  It would be very difficult for Disney to draw a line between those mentally handicapped guests who legitimately require a GAC card and those whose needs would be sufficiently accommodated with a DAS card. This is obviously a very difficult issue to tackle.
Disneyland Still Does Its Best to Provide All Guests With Magic
Walt Disney’s vision was to create a park where everyone could come to play as a family.  He wanted a place where families with multiple generations could play together.  However, with the unprecedented popularity of the Disney parks (millions of guests per year at both the California and Florida resorts), providing proper accommodations for each and every guest has become extremely difficult. In late summer 2014, this case was transferred to the federal courts of Florida,  and while the battle ensues on the opposite coast, the parks continue to provide as many guests as they can with access to Disneyland’s magic.
Sources: Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 §302(b)(A)(ii)  Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 §302(b)(A)(iii)  Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 §302(b)(B)  Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 §302(2)(A)(ii)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complain (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  https://wdpromedia.disney.go.com/media/wdpro-assets/dlr/help/guest-services/guests-with-disabilities/Disney-Parks-Disability-Access-Service-Card-2014-04-10.pdf  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Complaint (http://dogalilaw.com/files/86572403.pdf)  Thomas, Bob Walt Disney: An American Original (1994)  Thomas, Bob Walt Disney: An American Original (1994)  http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-disney-autism-disability-lawsuit-federal-20140929-post.html
Photo by: Tom Bricker – under Creative Commons license – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/