Families of autistic kids sue Disney over queue policy

Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2014 9:01 AM | Contributed by Jeff

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, and now offers a "disability access service" card to allow them to obtain scheduled return times for park attractions.

Read more from Reuters via The Chicago Tribune.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 9:14 AM

This is an issue near and dear to my heart, but I have to call B.S. on this one.

My kid is on the autism spectrum, in a relatively mild way, but I get the issue. Normally, he can queue like it's his job. One of his earliest spoken phrases at Cedar Point was, "We have to wait our turn." That's my little coaster addict.

We're lucky, because doing a queue is a social contract he understands. There are other situations where he doesn't process these contracts and circumstances. With some kids it's nearly impossible. Last weekend we waited about 25 minutes for Pooh, when the ride shut down. We were next in line. It was clear that they were tagging out the ride to evacuate it, so we bailed. When we exited through the gift shop, he collapsed on the floor and melted down. It was pretty heart breaking. We talked to the cast members at the entrance, and they gave us a pass to FP any attraction that day. Honestly, if we weren't next to board, I would have just tried to get him to roll with it. They made it right the best way they could. Stuff breaks.

Diana recently encountered a family with one of those "access service" cards, for a kid who was far more seriously down the spectrum. She talked with the parents about it, and it works just as they describe. You go to an attraction, get a return time, and come back then without the line. This family rolls with it by setting the expectation up front that the process involves scheduling rides. I realize every kid is different (something that is painfully obvious when trying to figure out therapy for your kid), but this system seems to work pretty well.

I'm not an ASD expert. I do understand that the concept of "fair" for an ASD kid may simply not make sense. I totally get that. What I have found is that dealing with difficult behaviors is generally an issue of redirection. When you create repeatable structure around an activity, it's easier for the kid to operate in that structure. We literally have laminated diagrams that outline the bedtime process... get pajamas on, watch TV, have a snack, brush, etc. I think it's on the parents to create that structure in this case, as best they can, with the expectation that it may or may not work.

Under the old system, I don't think Disney could legally verify any disability, which is why it was abused. To me, this new arrangement solves the problem.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 9:47 AM

They said offering a return time is equivalent to a wait...

Which is exactly the point.

...and there is no guarantee of immediate access to attractions at the return time.

Which is always true for anyone that enters the line, as you illustrated with your Pooh breakdown example. Is there something in the ADA that requires parks to eliminate waiting for guests with disabilities? I'm not trying to be smart, just asking out of ignorance.

I understand that waiting in a queue can be problematic for children with autism (hell, it can be problematic for any child), but doesn't this system allow you to get a return time and then go and find another attraction with a smaller line to enjoy while you "wait"?

Last edited by Bakeman31092, Wednesday, April 9, 2014 9:52 AM
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 9:53 AM

It's essentially ad hoc Fastpass, yes.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 10:02 AM

That's rough. My son too is on the Autism Spectrum and thankfully he can manage lines as long as about 30 minutes. Hopefully we can get a little better at it. We are fortunate as we have Cedar Point nearby to get him learning to queue without being disruptive. The past year we have seen remarkable progress with him and social situations.

With that said, our visit to Disney we didn't take advantage of the special pass. We looked at queue times and made a judgment call on whether or not it was a good idea. The meltdowns are the worst, but we try to roll with it.

I just don't think its something to file a lawsuit over. It's life. Nothing is fair, you play with the hand you are dealt with.

~Rob

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 10:05 AM

I was hoping you would weigh in, because I know you've had a tougher go of it than we have. That, and you already have other kids being kids. No idea how you manage a basketball team. ;)

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:44 AM

At the risk of being a little too "Gonch" (or not):

How is it Disney's responsibility to handle your kid's issues? You know what your kid can ad can not do. If they can't do something (like possibly wait to ride something under any circumstances - even ones meant to compensate) then maybe it's not something you should try to do with your kid.

Keep in mind this comes from a parent whose kids are apparently freakishly adaptable and well behaved and one who has a hard time understanding behavioral issues beyond, "Shut up, quit whining and effing do it."

In summary, it should be up to the parent to understand the child's limitations. Everyone can't do everything - although that doesn't seem to apply anymore.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:54 AM

What Disney has instituted seems to be the best way to accommodate the families while preventing abuse of the system. It's not perfect for every family, no system could be.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:00 PM

While I don't agree with the lawsuit, Gonch, it just ain't that simple when your kid has in someway been determined to be "broken."

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:20 PM

Yeah, but you know what your kid can do...or you find out as you try.

The onus shouldn't be on anyone but you to handle that. It's not the world's responsibility to adapt, it's the parent's/child's. That might mean trips to Disney World, just aren't in the cards.

Everyone can't do everything. It's true of all of us. We all have limitations in various ways. The problem is that that expectation has changed. People expect to be able to do everything and then pull stuff like suing Disney when they can't. Disney is a privilege, not a right.

Stuff doesn't have to be hard. If you're unable to stand in a line for a period of time, you don't go to a place where a majority of time is potentially spent standing in a line waiting.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:35 PM

It is getting to that point that if everybody is "special" then nobody is special.

Disney's revised policy is completely within reason and in no way is discriminatory, which is what the lawsuit basically is accusing them of. They are experts at queue management and would know best how to handle ALL aspects of disabilities when it comes to waiting in line. I suspect a judge will throw this out as merit-less. After all, Disney is a private business and nowhere does it say one MUST take their child to Disney.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:46 PM

First, my son is ASD as well, and would classify as higher functioning. I'd say, we can get through about 20-30 minute waits on a good day, but not a string of 30 minute waits back to back. That said, we were last at Disney during President's week, so it was quite busy. We utilized the DAS system to help us with the long waits, and visited the shorter wait attractions in between.

So what is my problem with the system? It doesn't accurately reflect the wait times for certain attractions. My perfect example is Rock N Roller coaster. The ride wait estimate is from the moment you enter the queue, until you get assigned a seat to ride, and I'm ok with that. However, when using the DAS, we get a time less 10 minutes to enter the fast pass line. During the busy times, it took 29 minutes from the fast pass entrance, to get assigned to a seat. Disney needs to find a way to adjust the wait times dynamically to account for the fast pass queue time, which we know they track independently.

It's a solvable problem, and I am happy that Disney is trying to curb the abuse; the system just needs a few tweaks.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:47 PM

"Not everyone can do everything" is a straw man argument. Who is responsible isn't the point either. This is about reasonable accommodations for other human beings, because being compassionate is what separates us from the animals. Just because these douchebags are looking for entitlements doesn't make that human factor less important.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:54 PM

at the risk of inflaming everyone, here I go:

If a child can't reasonably handle a queue, without a meltdown, how the hell can they handle an evac situation without endangering themselves or any employee/safety personnel.

To me, that's the test.

(edited and added) If the child/adult can't pass that test, then this an attraction that they shouldn't ride. Life is hard sometimes, I appreciate that. People get dealt bad hands, parents just need to accept that.

Last edited by CreditWh0re, Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:02 PM
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:01 PM

I don't think it's Disney or anyone else seeing it as their responsibility to adapt to special needs children and their families. I think Disney recognizes this segment as an important part of their customer base and it is in their financial best interest to offer reasonable accommodations. (And by financial best interest, I mean profits and not money paid in lawsuits.)

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:06 PM

Farfel said:

So what is my problem with the system? It doesn't accurately reflect the wait times for certain attractions. My perfect example is Rock N Roller coaster. The ride wait estimate is from the moment you enter the queue, until you get assigned a seat to ride, and I'm ok with that. However, when using the DAS, we get a time less 10 minutes to enter the fast pass line. During the busy times, it took 29 minutes from the fast pass entrance, to get assigned to a seat. Disney needs to find a way to adjust the wait times dynamically to account for the fast pass queue time, which we know they track independently.

If your child can't handle (poor choice of words but I don't know any other) a 29 minute wait, what would they do in an evac situation (say on a lift hill)?

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:09 PM

Farfel said:

Disney needs to find a way to adjust the wait times dynamically to account for the fast pass queue time, which we know they track independently.



No, Disney made a very gracious accommodation. If your child/relative can't live with that because of potential "crap happens" items (line backs up, etc), then your relative really shouldn't be riding the attraction in the first place. They obviously can't handle dynamic situations, and should not put themselves in that position going forward.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:20 PM

Let's be clear here... we're not talking about some adults who are bitter diabetics or veterans who lost limbs. We're talking about children who literally have brains that function differently than others. It doesn't mean that they're incapable of functioning, and it doesn't mean that their parents can't enjoy their relationship with their child. What it does mean is that it can be challenging to reach those kids. Disney in particular can in some case have an enormous impact (read this article from the NYT... it's fascinating, heartbreaking and hopeful).

I think what Disney has setup makes total sense, and the suit has no merit. Parents with ASD kids, in my opinion, can likely roll with this the way they would anything else out in the world. I get the feeling that some of you think that even this extent is something they've done too much on.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:55 PM

Jeff said:

"Not everyone can do everything" is a straw man argument.

No, it's not. It's a basic, simple reality that we seem to ignore.

Who is responsible isn't the point either.

It seems it's entirely the point. Is it your job as a parent to temper activities to your child's tolerance or the world's job to go the extra step to accomodate your child? Where does that responsibility ultimately lie?

This is about reasonable accommodations for other human beings, because being compassionate is what separates us from the animals.

Great. I'm sorry if someone's kid can't handle standing in line.

You know what else spearates us from the animals? Higher functioning/reasoning. (and that's not a pun with the Autism thing)

If you can't handle standing in line, don't expect to be able to do things that require standing in line. When another entity takes an extra step to try to help accomodate so that some who might not be able to participate due to limitations, then don't complain that they didn't take more steps. Accept the reality of the situation.

That's not an incompassionate stance.

Just because these douchebags are looking for entitlements doesn't make that human factor less important.

But just because there's a human factor involved doesn't entitle us to throw all logic or assemblance of sanity out the window.

It'd be nice if everyone could reasonably be accomodated. But they realistically can't.

Everyone can't do everything.

Let's be clear here... we're not talking about some adults who are bitter diabetics or veterans who lost limbs. We're talking about children who literally have brains that function differently than others.

Exactly. And parents shouldn't be trying to put those children into situations they may not be able to accept or handle. In fact, I'd think those parents would be more sensitive and aware of things before going into them.

If you do put your kid in over his/her head, it's not on anyone but you.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:55 PM

I think the DAS program is fair, and I have no issues with it. I wholeheartedly agree that a Disney park can be effective in helping people with ASD kids. I also have no issue with people with disabilities getting slightly better (or much better) access than me when I'm at the park. No problem whatsoever.

That said I have zero appreciation for people who complain that the new program doesn't work for their kids, because previously they got an immediate straight shot onto the ride. Again, if your child can't handle the minimal yet unpredictable delays life throws at them in this accommodation , then they are a total risk for any emergency personnel trying to rescue them in an evac, and should refrain from any attraction that is elevated/difficult to extract.

And it's the PARENT who should know better.

Last edited by CreditWh0re, Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:57 PM
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