Florida commission says Walt Disney World discriminated against kids with autism

Posted Tuesday, March 10, 2015 9:50 AM | Contributed by Jeff

A Florida commission that enforces civil rights has determined that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts discriminated against autistic children when the company changed its policies for disabled access to rides and attractions in 2013. The new Disney program was a “blanket accommodation that did not take into account the nuances between various disabilities,” according to the commission findings, dated Feb. 13.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 9:56 AM
Jeff's avatar

This angers me. The commission got it wrong. There isn't a place anywhere on the planet that goes as out of its way for people with disabilities. This isn't about the kids, it's about douchebag entitled parents. Trust me, I've been there. The way you use this system (if you choose to use it at all) is to not tell your kid that you're going to ride something until your time comes. It isn't complicated. Working with a kid with autism is all about setting expectations and explaining the framework in which you operate. My kid knows that if you don't have a Fastpass (which being a non-tangible thing he can't see anyway), you can't ride certain things.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 4:26 PM
rollergator's avatar

IMO, they stopped discriminating against everyone that didn't have a disability. Remember, the change came on the heels of the VERY public disclosure of families abusing the previous "handicapped access" system. Also important to remember that from a practical standpoint you can't accommodate everyone's very individualized condition/situation (the "nuances" between disabilities).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 8:00 PM

...The new Disney program was a “blanket accommodation that did not take into account the nuances between various disabilities,”...

Isn't this the EXACT OPPOSITE of discrimination?!?

But then again, what do I know?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 3:22 PM

Disney provided a more than reasonable accommodation (which is what the law states). Anyone that expects instant access to an attraction in a park as busy as Disney is totally unreasonable.

Most of us would love to be able to go to that park, and be put into a virtual queue for any attraction that we choose without waiting in the normal line. In reality its Fast Passes without the constraint of having to make reservations days ahead or the issue of the Fast Pass being not available.

These people already are being entitled to a system that is better than what the average paying guest experiences. Yet it isn't good enough for them. If a kid can't handle waiting and the parents cannot find a way to handle it (as Jeff suggested not telling them until its ride time). they really shouldn't be at the busiest parks on earth. Period.

Last edited by super7*, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 5:05 PM
Wednesday, March 11, 2015 6:30 PM

The argument I am always making on this is most people do not know what it is like to have a child on the extreme end of the Autism Spectrum. My 17 yr-old stepson is in that position. He is non-verbal. He does not understand anything you tell him. Our problem with a wait-time is keeping him occupied for a long period of time until it is time to ride. We do not take him to parks very often due to the hassles. We do try to pick days that have less crowds. I feel that many parks have reasonable policies. Cedar Point changed theirs again and has a "Plan-Your-Day" policy. They give you a schedule of times for all rides with a minimum 30 minutes between rides, which I think is fair. Their old policy for guests with Autism allowed 1 instant access, per ride, per day. If you wanted to ride a 2nd time, you would have to wait. I feel this was a fair way of doing it. It would keep people from re-riding. Enjoy the ride once and move on.

It is a shame that there are parents out there that abuse the system and make it bad for those that need it. I understand it is a balancing act for the parks. You want to keep people from abusing it. But at the same time, try to meet the needs of those with disabilities.

Jerry - Magnum Fanatic
Famous Dave's- 206 restaurants - 35 states - 2 countries

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 7:46 PM

But the problem is that Disney was found to discriminate because they didn't differentiate between "nuances" in disabilities. I don't think there's one place ANYWHERE that has any sort of policy in place that can accommodate every "nuance" of a disability.

This opens up an epic can of worms. Imagine I go to a park with a severe mental health disability like depression (no, I'm not saying autism spectrum disorders are a mental health disability, I'm just giving another example of a disability that is maybe not so easy to see to the naked eye), and I go to Disney, am I discriminated against because if I don't get instant access to rides, I could attempt to jump in front of a moving ride vehicle to kill myself? After all, this is a "nuance" of a mental health disability that Disney didn't accommodate reasonably. See what I'm saying? It is absolutely ridiculous, yet this is where I see the idea heading. Blech.

"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 9:38 PM
Jeff's avatar

At risk of being insensitive, if waiting is a near impossibility, then WDW is probably a poor choice of places to visit. Just getting in and around Magic Kingdom tends to involve waiting. Just getting in requires a wait for a tram, then a monorail (or boat), then a security check, then the entrance. You'll wait four times before you even get in.

My kid is not extreme, but we've had meltdowns over breakdowns and not being able to sit in the front seat (future enthusiast, amiright?). In his case at least, I wouldn't be doing him any favors to indulge his desire, but understandably, every kid is different.

The discussion is nearly the same one regarding amputees and ride restraints. Is it possible to accommodate everyone? I'm guessing no. The thing with autism is that it's mostly up to parents to decide in the context of the given system.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Friday, March 13, 2015 1:11 PM

Exactly! If you cannot stand to wait in some way, the Disney is not for you. The parks are almost miserably crowded. There are other options that are less crowed. Not every activity can accommodate everyone perfectly.

And another valid point, every "nuance" of every situation cannot be covered and still run an efficient business.

Friday, March 13, 2015 2:03 PM

I suspect that a commission of this type is more likely to find a violation than would a court. And its not clear from what I have seen in terms of the impact of the commission's decision.

Seems a lot less likely to me that Disney is found to be in violation had the more accommodating system not been in place a couple of years ago. They had a system which was capable of handling more nuances but changed it. Without the earlier system being in place, I doubt the commission finds a violation (and parents may not have even brought the complaint in the first place had Disney started with the system that is in place today).

There may be some pushback on the reason for changing the policy. How much abuse was there? How common was it? Are there any ways to limit the abuse while keeping the old system in place.

There is a balance in terms of accommodating nuances. You can't find a way to accommodate every nuance of every disabled person on the planet. But you also can't install wheelchair ramps and say we have made accommodations for all disabled people. If that doesn't work for your particular disability, go somewhere else. Lines need to be drawn and you will not find 100% agreement on where they should be drawn.

Last edited by GoBucks89, Friday, March 13, 2015 2:17 PM
Friday, March 13, 2015 4:00 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Interesting to compare opinions to last year at this time:


I'm still very much of the "Everyone can't do everything" mindset.

Friday, March 13, 2015 7:44 PM
rollergator's avatar

One of the downsides of "mainstreaming" is that it does encourage the idea that everyone should be able to do everything. Safety is something we discuss quite a bit, but there's also "comfort." If your kid is uncomfortable with riding or with waiting, you need to be the bigger kid (adult?) and know what your kid MAY be able to do....but probably shouldn't.


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