Civil Rights Commission Finds Disney World Discriminated Against Autistic Children

Micky Mouse

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts discriminated against children with autism and their families by depriving them of “full enjoyment” of the company’s theme parks, a Florida civil rights commission ruled this week.

According to Deadline, the Florida Commission on Human Relations issued five separate rulings on May 11 that found that Disney’s theme park division failed to properly accommodate children with autism at its Orlando, Florida parks.

“Complainant was able to demonstrate that Complainant and Complainant’s son were denied a reasonable accommodation in a place of public accommodation for the son’s cognitive disability,” FCHR executive director Michelle Wilson wrote in the ruling. “Although Respondent provided an accommodation, it was a blanket accommodation that was supposed to apply to all cognitive disabilities.”

“Respondent failed to consider the son’s specific disability when offering a reasonable accommodation,” the ruling continues. “Therefore, Complainant and Complainant’s son were deprived of full enjoyment of the facility.”

The rulings reportedly stem from a change that Disney theme parks made in accommodating guests with autism in October 2013. The parks previously utilized a Guest Assistance Card program that allowed children with autism and their families to bypass long wait times, which are difficult for children with cases of more severe autism.

The park switched instead to a Disability Access Service system that allowed special needs riders to make appointments to ride rides without having to wait on lines, similar to its FastPass service.

But 16 children and young adults filed suit against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in California in April 2014, alleging that the DAS system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiffs claimed that the system led to long wait times that contributed to “meltdown behaviors” for guests with autism. The lawsuit also claimed that Disney park staff had become “robotic” in dealing with guests with disabilities.

Last month, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by an autistic man’s family that claimed the park violated the ADA. The man’s family filed an appeal in the case on Monday.

The five new rulings by the Florida Commission on Human Rights reportedly brings the total number of autism-related discrimination judgements against Disney Parks and Resorts to 13. Complainants may initiate a civil lawsuit against Disney within one year if efforts at settlement are unsuccessful.

Disney has repeatedly claimed that it complies with fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum