The Disney Decision — Reasonable Accommodation vs Able-Bodied Abuse

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On June 22, 2020 US District Court Judge Anne Conway ruled on an Americans with Disabilities Act case regarding Disney’s reasonable accommodations for an autistic individual. In a disappointing ruling Conway found that Disney did not have to provide reasonable accommodations (10 front-of-line-passes) for Donna Lorman’s adult autistic son.

Although the ruling seems pretty straightforward, the events that led up to Disney’s current reasonable accommodation policy date back over a decade, when a rash of able-bodied visitors abused the former policy.

Previously disabled Disney guests were generally allowed front-of-line privileges. In many cases the main lines were not wheelchair-accessible, so there was either a separate accessible entrance, or people with mobility issues just used the exit. And this worked pretty well for the most part.

Until the abuse started.

At first it was just groups of kids that would borrow wheelchairs and pretend that someone in their party was disabled, just so they could cut to the front of the line.

And then some Manhattan moms ramped things up a notch when they booked accessible VIP Disney tours through a Florida tour company —  even though nobody in their party was disabled. The sad thing is that the moms saw nothing wrong with booking an accessible tour just to get front-of-line “concierge” access. And since the tour guide used a scooter, they were all able to cut to the front of the line, as the former Disney policy allowed a disabled visitor to be accompanied by up to 6 guests. To add insult to injury, the moms even bragged about it in a NY Post article (https://nypost.com/2013/05/14/rich-manhattan-moms-hire-handicapped-tour-guides-so-kids-can-cut-lines-at-disney-world/)

As one mom put it, “This is how the 1% does Disney.”

Gag.

Of course this wasn’t lost on Disney, and a new disability policy was implemented. Today guests with mobility disabilities wait in the main line if it’s accessible. If the main line isn’t accessible, they receive a return time – based on the current wait – from the attendant. And that seems fair; after all most wheelchair-users can wait in line just as well as able-bodied visitors.

Unfortunately that policy didn’t work for many autistic kids, so the  Disability Access Service Card (DAS) was introduced. The DAS allows guests who have a qualified disability to receive a return time for any attraction, based on the current wait time. In theory it helps eliminate those line-waiting meltdowns.

So why wouldn’t the DAS work for Lorman’s son? Well it might have, but Lorman noted that her son also needs to do the rides in a specific order at exact times, so the line waiting was not the only issue. Also keep in mind that theme parks provide a lot of stimulation – new smells, sounds and graphics – and keeping to a set order and routine helps quell over stimulation in many autistic people.

But apparently Conway didn’t understand all the facets of autism.

In her ruling she stated that it would be an undue burden on Disney to provide front-of-line passes to disabled guests, as it would significantly increase the wait time at attractions for non-disabled guests. She also noted that it would probably lead to abuse by non-disabled people.

Granted I haven’t been to Disney since they had paper tickets, but I personally wouldn’t mind waiting a little longer in line if it meant that someone with a disability could be accommodated. But I guess that’s just me.

In my mind, front-of-line passes for autistic kids are no different than ramps for wheelchair-users. Both are reasonable accommodations. Unfortunately one can also be abused by able-bodied guests, and in the end those that really need that reasonable accommodation have to pay the price.

An unreasonable ruling for sure.

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