“Anyone with an autistic child understands the issues,” says attorney Mike Arias.“We hope this will cause a change that will improve the situation for every autistic child.”
Prior to the 2013 change, disabled persons, including autistic children, were issued a Disney Guest Assistance Card (GAC), which allowed them to go to the front of the line. According to the complaint filed in Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, this system of accommodation was “universally enjoyed and appreciated by the community of persons touched by cognitive impairments.”
Disney’s new policy, known as the Disability Assistance System (DAS), now requires the disabled to access the ride or event at a time specified by Disney. Mike Arias, from Arias Sanguinetti Stahle & Torrijos, argues that his clients cannot be accommodated this way.
In the words of the complaint, the plaintiffs in this case “like other persons with cognitive impairments, are mentally and physically incapable of waiting for a specific length of time, regardless of whether they are waiting in line, or told to come back at a later date.”
“I have known many autistic children,” says Arias, “They tend to be excited very easily. When they go to Disney World, it is a major highlight in their lives. You can’t tell an autistic child to come back in an hour - because once they see the ride - they are ready to go. The way their minds are structured they just cannot handle being told to come back later.”
The complaint goes on to say that imposing this kind of waiting system on children with autism produces extreme stress and “causes persons on the autism spectrum, and other near-spectrum exhibitors, to overstimulate, resulting in anxiety and ‘meltdown’ behaviors.”
“Disney has to recognize the specifics of a disability,” says Arias. “They can’t offer the same plan for every person with a disability.”
Disney has said publicly it denies it is doing anything wrong and says the suit has “no merit.”
The suit seeks statutory damages, in other words, a fine for every time an autistic person has been denied access and asked to return at a specific time, plus it asks for injunctive relief.
“Injunctive relief would mean Disney changes its policy - that’s something that would benefit every autistic child who goes to Disney World,” says Arias.
That could be a lot of children. According to a Centers for Disease Control press release on March 27, 2014, as of 2010, one out of every 68 American children is considered autistic.
The firm of Arias Sanguinetti Stahle & Torrijos handles a diverse range of legal issues. However, the firm has represented many persons with disabilities over the last 15 years. “I like this area of the law because it deals with a segment of our society that many people tend to overlook,” says Arias.
We contacted Disney for a comment but there was no reply.