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  1. #1
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    Default Families of autistic kids sue Disney parks

    From the Orlando Sentinel -

    (Reuters) - Families with autistic children have sued Walt Disney Co, alleging the company does not provide adequate access to theme park visitors with autism who have difficulty waiting in long lines for rides.

    In October 2013, Disney parks stopped offering autistic visitors a "guest assistance card" that let them and their families bypass lines, according to a lawsuit filed April 3 in federal court in California. Instead, the company offered a "disability access service" card to allow them to obtain scheduled return times for park attractions.

    Disney changed the policy after media reports of abuse of guest assistance cards, such as visitors hiring disabled people to help them skip lines.

    The 16 plaintiffs who are suing Disney said the company is violating requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They said offering a return time is equivalent to a wait, and there is no guarantee of immediate access to attractions at the return time.

    In a statement on Tuesday, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts said it had "an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests."

    "We fully comply with all ADA requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit," the company added.

    The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to order Disney to change its current policy.

    (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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    A longer, more detailed version of this......

    Disney Parks facing lawsuit over Disability Access Service
    by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix and first published in yesterday's Disneyland Park Update

    Parents of 16 children with developmental disorders and cognitive impairments filed a lawsuit last Thursday (April 3, 2014) against the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Inc. regarding the Disability Access Service. The lawsuit was filed in California, and alleges that the policy, implemented in October 2013 at both the California and Florida resorts, violates the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act. The individual plaintiffs have filed additional counts, including breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

    Walt Disney Parks and Resorts today issued the following statement:

    "Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests. We fully comply with all ADA requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit."

    The company also denies claims that the theme parks refuse to vary their policy to meet individual guest needs:

    "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."

    The lawsuit acknowledges that people with developmental disorders and cognitive impairments can have a wide range of abilities and impairments, but note that the disabled plaintiffs, "like other persons with cognitive impairments are mentally and physically incapable" of:

    Waiting for significant periods of time in a line or queue.
    Traveling across a park to the site of an attraction only to be told to come back later. The lawsuit likens requiring disabled visitors to obtain a return time via the DAS program to be akin to placing food in front of someone who doesn't understand the concept of time, and telling them they cannot eat until later.

    According to the lawsuit, both of these factors "will induce meltdowns in the large majority of persons with cognitive impairments, including the disabled Plaintiffs."

    Along with these general issues, the lawsuit details the specific needs of some of the plaintiffs in an effort to show how DAS fails to meet their needs. For example:

    One plaintiff must visit a specific list of attractions in a specific order.
    One plaintiff must ride the same attraction over and over again.
    One plaintiff has meltdowns that include a wild flailing of the arms.
    One plaintiff simply shuts down, falls to the ground, and refuses to move.

    The 176-page lawsuit details the differences between Disney's former Guest Assistance Card (GAC) policy and the new Disability Access Service (DAS), and contends the new policy fails to meet the needs of visitors with developmental disorders and cognitive impairments.

    The lawsuit praised the previous GAC program:

    "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… With the Guest Assistance Card, though guests were not always expressly promised immediate access to the attractions, immediate access was precisely what Disney, through its employees, routinely delivered. The disabled Plaintiffs caretakers knew they could rely upon immediate access when they visited the Disney Parks. Disney would not make them travel all the way to an attraction only to be told to leave and come back later; Disney did not make them wait in a line for more than a few minutes. Very little risk of over-stimulation or meltdown ever arose."

    The lawsuit also praised Disney employees for their treatment of guests with disabilities with the previous GAC policy:

    "[E]mployees always appeared to have been trained to care about Plaintiffs special needs. Actually, the employees were so talented in this role that it did not appear they had to be trained to care; it appeared they simply did care, naturally. They never did anything which was designed or prone to inflict embarrassment or shame or humiliation upon the disabled guest and his or her companions."

    According to the complaint, all this changed on October 9, 2013 with the implementation of the DAS. Citing the company's years of experience with the GAC program, and the research that went into creating the DAS offering, the lawsuit states:

    "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 Services discriminatory impact upon Plaintiffs is an accident."

    The complaint goes on to allege that Disney either deliberately designed the program to reduce the number of guests with autism or cognitive impairments who visit the parks, or saw that the number of these guests visiting dropped after the new policy was implemented and recognized this change as a "benefit" to the company.

    The lawsuit also claims that Disney employees "turned overnight into a terrible new version of themselves" following the implementation of this new policy:

    "[C]ourtesy was replaced with rudeness, acceptance with suspicion, understanding with impatience, consideration with discourtesy. The switch from respect for Plaintiffs needs to disdain for Plaintiffs presence was so broad, and so consistent, and so immediate, that Disney clearly trained its personnel to engage in behavior that is calculated to deter Plaintiffs from ever returning to the Parks in the future."

    The lawsuit also points out the contradiction inherent in requiring guests to wait in line to demonstrate their need to avoid waiting in other lines:

    "The entire DAS is predicated upon the concept that Disney will accommodate Plaintiffs, not by relieving them of the burden of waiting, but by relieving them of the burden of waiting in lines. However, without exception, when each Plaintiff who has visited the Parks since October 9, 2013 arrived at the Parks, he or she reported as required by Disney to Guest Relations, and was immediately met with an extended wait, in line, just to obtain the DAS card."

    Additional claims and concerns in the lawsuit include:

    Guests using the DAS program are required to "complete the stigmatizing procedure of having a photograph taken" in order to obtain a DAS card, where the same is not required of typical guests.
    Guests using the DAS program usually wait longer than typical guests because of the need to return to a Guest Relations kiosk and get a new return time for each additional attraction.
    Disney and/or Disney employees have anonymously posted messages and videos to social media sites "well-scripted, positive messages" about the DAS program designed to counteract complaints.
    The company helped publicize news reports about "rented invalids" and other abuses of the GAC program to provide an excuse for implementing the new program.
    Disney is inconsistent in providing individualized accommodation for guests with developmental disorders and cognitive impairments, giving some added benefits to those who complain loudest, while denying the same to other guests with identical needs.

    The lawsuit also notes that Disney has a secret "Magic List" of guests who receive additional benefits not afforded to the disabled community at large:

    "Disney began inconsistently, arbitrarily and capriciously doling out still another occasional accommodation, internally known as the Magic List. 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"

    The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the current DAS program as it is applied to visitors with developmental disorders and cognitive impairments, and asks for a court-approved program to replace it, along with monitoring by the court to ensure Disney's compliance. The plaintiffs also seek damages, litigation costs, and "such other relief as this Court may find just and equitable."
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    Smh.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BrerGnat View Post
    Smh.
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    I was with a family member who had the new version of the card and the way I saw it work was that the kid was able to ride all the rides and attractions once per day going thru the fast pass line. Never were they told to come back at this time as the article states. It seems to be a fair way for the member carrying the card to enjoy everything.
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    I think Disney does a great job of accommodating guests with all sorts of handicaps, both mental or physical. If that still isn't enough for a family, they should look elsewhere for a family vacation.
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    Speaking as someone who has a child with a disability, I know some people got used to the GAC with "front of the line" access in some instances, but I found the DAS to be fair. I get that not everyone likes it, but the abuses with the GAC were HUGE because it was uncontrolled. The DAS system cuts out the impetus for cheating because it doesn't allow people to just jump to the front of the line but does allow them quick access to the ride at the appropriate time. I don't want to be insensitive to those with genuine disabilities, I want them to be able to enjoy Disney, too, but this lawsuit sounds ridiculous. The DAS came about like many of the new policies at Disney, a few cheaters ruining it for those who genuinely need it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bay Lake View Post
    Never were they told to come back at this time as the article states.
    If the current standby line is 20 min or less the guest with the DAS can go immediately through the FP line or alternate entrance. If the line is longer (say, 50 min) the guest will be given a card with a return time in 50 min. They can come back any time after that and get immediate access.
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    You know, when the DAS was first announced I felt that it so dramatically swung the pendulum the other way that it was unfair and really just lazy for Disney to essentially throw their hands up and say they give up.

    However, after reading the extended article, the lawyers actually turned me against their clients, the claims they make are just so far-fetched that it undermines any legitimacy their claim may have had in my eyes.
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    Wow, that has my head spinning. Magic list, CM's instructed to be rude to guests, Disney deliberately trying to cut down the numbers of autistic people coming into the parks? Huh?

    I do see that there are some drawbacks to the DAS, especially for individuals with certain needs--for example, someone who would like to go on the same ride over and over. But I do have a sincere question for parents/caretakers of autistic kids, young and old. Regarding the inability to wait in lines or wait to come back to a ride, if need be--how do you deal with improving said skill as they get older and mature? I only ask as I can imagine how concerning it must be to know that you will not be around for the rest of your child's life and/or the hope that your child will be able to mainstream in their adult life. I realize that certain situations add a huge amount of stress to autistic people, but how do they learn to deal with it if they are not given the opportunity? I hope I do not sound insensitive, but I feel I am ignorant about these things. I know with my own son (who does not have autism) when he was little, he had a hard time waiting in line, as most very young children do. But we used those situations to help accustom him to what is expected behavior and, of course, he eventually matured. I realize that it is not the same as someone with a disability, but what are your thoughts?

    Once again, I hope I don't offend anyone. I truly want to understand.
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    Speaking as a law student...

    This lawsuit is baseless and the lawyer knows it. It's a voluntary program...

    My guess is the lawyer has an interest in the autism community and wants to help the cause by getting publicity for the issue.

    I'm not taking sides or saying there is anything wrong with that, but it seems like this is more for publicity than actually winning a lawsuit.

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    Beth, as a parent of two autistic sons, this is precisely my problem with the DAS, so we have never used it nor the GAC when it was in place. We have spent tens of thousands of dollars on therapies and to develop their social skills, and I am not prepared to throw that, as well as all of their hard work, out the window for a few days of unrealistic experiences. It's incredible what kids are capable of when tested!

    I do not judge those who need these accommodations for their families, but I think the system would be detrimental to my sons' development.
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    I sense a heated debate coming....

    I'll watch from over here in the corner...


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    Beth, the issue with many autistic kids is sensory based. It is not that they can't wait for things, it is often the environment where the waiting occurs can be assaulting to the senses. For many individuals on the spectrum, senses are heightened to the point of physical pain with loud noises (my son) or a suffocating feeling when surrounded by people, way more intense than the average person would experience. Smells can be overwhelming. Lights can be painfully bright and darkness can be disorienting. Some kids are "sensory seekers" and have a constant need to "fidget", which is called "stimming." Stimming behaviors are a coping mechanism for sensory overload but often the behaviors are disruptive and potentially disturbing to other guests. Spinning, hand flapping, repeating words and phrases over and over again, touching everything around them to gain a sense of position in space...all these behaviors are not really done conscienciously, and the kids can't just NOT do them sometimes. It can be challenging to be in a queue environment, particularly in Disney where the queues are often indoors and "themed" and full of noises, lighting effects, A/C fans blowing air. Many queues are so overwhelming that the kids just break down and lose it. It has happened to us, at WDW. It was never an issue for us at Disneyland because almost every queue is open air/outdoors.

    This is the main reason why it is so difficult for those kids with autism to "wait in lines." It's mostly a matter of not wanting to worry about your child hitting someone accidentally, or touching (or worse, licking) another guest in line.

    Personally, I always thought the "immediate access" of the GAC was not fair. I didn't really like using it. I think the DAS is perfect, honestly. All we have ever required was somewhere else to WAIT. Our kids can wait. We have to wait all the time. We wait at stores, at restaurants, at school, at doctor's offices, at the airport, on the plane. I mean, waiting is an integral part of life and it is our duty to ensure our children learn what it means to wait patiently.

    My kids both have autism, as you know. They know how to wait. They also know that if they throw a tantrum, they get nothing. However, an autistic meltdown is not a tantrum. I have experienced my share of both for a lifetime. An autistic meltdown is a sad and scary thing to witness. I can say with 100% conviction that if any optional place (like an amusement park) caused my child such distress that he experienced repeated meltdowns, we would stop visiting that place, regardless of the small moments of "joy" experienced there. It's just not worth it to put a child through that kind of distress repeatedly.

    The parents in this suit are acting selfish and childish. These are the subset of parents in the special needs communtiy that feels that "the world owes them a Coke." That's my way of saying they seek pity rather than working towards real solutions. People like this are doing a disservice to their children by refusing to take some personal responsibility and making some sacrifices that are hard to make. These parents don't want to wait. They feel that they shouldn't have to. they are playing the martyr card and, frankly, this type of behavior is not helpful to the situation.
    Natalie
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    Excellent response Natalie! I am the mom of an autistic son and a special education teacher to children with autism. I was basically going to say everything that you just said. If you want to understand what autism is like there is a video on you tube made by an autistic girl named Carly. It basically shows you the sensory based issues that a child with autism can experience. They are all different, so what may set off a meltdown in one may not set off a meltdown in another. They live a completely different perspective in life than we do. With all my experience as a parent and teacher of special needs children, I still wonder what life is like from their perspective. It is a difficult one for people to understand. Especially when you are sitting at a park and your child is in full melt down mode and all eyes are on you.

    We have not been to Disney World since the implementation of the new DAS system. I do have concerns for my child. He did very well with the old system. We are going in September, so I am going to wait to give my opinions until I experience it for myself. Hopefully going at a less busy time will help us out.
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    Natalie, Jennifer and Ashley, I very much appreciate your posts, it's given me a lot to think about. I think what threw me off in the article was the lawyer equating the DAS with putting food in front of someone without a concept of time and telling them they can't eat until later. The ability to deal with delayed gratification is such an important skill for anyone to learn, or to learn to work around; the idea that not being able to wait at all seems a foreign concept to me. But what I'm reading from your posts that it's not about the waiting, but what is going on while waiting that makes it so difficult. I can somewhat understand about sensory overload as I have some difficulty with that myself (to a much lesser degree, of course). I have always had difficulty filtering out backgrounds sounds, especially later in the day or evening when I'm tired. So when someone just a few feet away from me is talking I will hear the TV in the next room at the same modulation and it makes it hard to distinguish between the two. After a long tiring day, loud noises are literally painful to my brain. I cannot imagine how overwhelming it must be to deal with sensory overload on a much higher level than that.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to reply to my question. I'm sure the DAS is not perfect but I'm also sure Disney did not implement it to create a hardship for people with autism. Hopefully they will take feedback and tweak the system as needed. As far as the lawyers involved in this suit, I'm more skeptical than yankeesfan. I tend to think that "litigation costs" might be their motivating factor.
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    Beth , my sons' Developmental Pediatrician once described it as like being at a disco with a migraine.
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    It is also important to know that, with the DAS, the child does NOT have to be present to obtain the return time. Of course, this could be problematic if there is only one parent and the child and the child can't be left alone.

    A HUGE concept in ADA therapy and Autism management is "first, then." It is a concept worked on beginning in the toddler years. It is teaching delayed gratification before all else because therapy will not be helpful if a child is not willing to do the work involved. IMO, a Disney park is a wonderful place to use "first, then" in a real life situation. It can be anything, but the "first" is the task the child has to complete, and the "then" is the reward. At Disney, though, you just replace the "first" with something random: First we have a snack, then we ride Teacups. First we have lunch, then we ride Soarin. Etc. This is NOT a foreign concept to any child with a developmental disability, especially autism.

    In addition, if a ride wait is under 20 minutes, "immediate access" is still the provision, as before with the GAC. The DAS simply levels the playing field for rides with longer waits.

    Again, though, if a child simply cannot handle the idea of waiting in some form or another, the child is probably not ready to be in the theme park in general. I guarantee the 16 children named in this suit are capable of waiting. The parents involved are not exactly the most level headed people...
    Natalie
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    This is only my story with my sons. Recently our youngest was diagnosed and it's been tough. I won't go into that right now.

    Honestly it's different for every child. What works for say Natalie or others may not work for me.

    First, I don't really agree with a lawsuit. That is extreme.

    I will say that the new DAS has not functioned well for us.

    Back to the response. With my son, he has a processing disorder as well. He just can not make the connection between A and B or C and B, etc. Basically cause and effect.

    The old "instant access" really helped to avoid the sensory overload and the constant questions from my son because he just can't "get it". That part is something that will never be "healed" or "taught to wait".

    And especially during busy season, it can be tough to get a return time for something that is 60 minutes and try to find another attraction that is under 10 minutes/15 tops with a wait. Especially at MK.

    So we have kind of aimless wondering and my son going into anxiety mode/attacks because he's not processing the data.

    Anyway, honestly it's hard to explain. And I've had really nasty things said to me by people that I'm not "teaching them to cope" [which yes we are. He's in therapies, in a special ASD unity in school, etc.]
    It's just something that would have to be experienced with my child in my shoes.

    That said, we still go to Disney, sadly he doesn't go as much because it is absolutely draining now. And my youngest son's needs too. It is overwhelming!
    I go by myself quite a bit to get out! lol
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    Terra, I completely understand your point of view, trust me. I know very well that every child with Autism has different struggles and is affected differently. When we lived near Disneyland, I used to go alone to "escape" as much as possible.

    I will say, don't say "never" when it comes to your child. It is truly amazing how far our kids can come with therapy over the years. My youngest is now 8 and he is NOTHING like he was at 2, 3, 4, 5, and even 6. He has auditory processing disorder, expressive language impairments, and sensory processing disorder. I totally get the lack of cause and effect understanding, reasoning, logic, etc. The young ages are VERY trying. Things do often get better. We never even got to WDW as a family until our youngest was almost 5 because he had a crippling fear of airplanes. They are his favorite thing now. If someone had told me five years ago that my son would eventually love flying, I would have laughed in their face. His anxiety attacks at the mere sight of a plane were nothing to sneeze at.

    I guess all this is to say we never can fully understand other's experiences, and I think there could be a better way to implement the DAS.

    Perhaps rather than allowing this suit to go forward, Disney will think about changes that they can make to accommodate different needs.
    Natalie
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