ORLANDO, Fla. — After a five-year court battle, a federal lawsuit demanding that people with autism go the front of the line at Disney World rides is going to trial in February, a judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Anne Conway set a four-day, non-jury trial in Orlando to start Feb. 18, according to court documents filed last month.
The lawsuit involving a plaintiff identified only as “A.L.” was filed in 2014 after Disney changed its policy to ban people with disabilities from going to the front of the line. Reports had gone viral that some wealthy visitors abused the system by hiring guests with disabilities to accompany them to the front.
Now, Disney allows people with disabilities to reserve a ride in advance, like a FastPass, by using what’s called a Disability Access Service Card.
But advocates argue that under DAS Card, getting a return time is equivalent to a wait, and it becomes a struggle for those with severe autism who don’t understand the concept of time and are prone to meltdowns.
Disney says the new policy is fair. “Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests,” the company said in a statement last year.
Autism is a developmental disability that affects people in different ways. The disease, which hits one out every 59 children, can affect people’s social skills or their ability or communicate. For A.L., he “was incapable of deviating from consistency, order, and routine,” the lawsuit said.
A.L., an Orange County man who was 22 when the lawsuit was first filed, followed a strict routine at the Magic Kingdom, traveling “in only one direction, stopping at only the same places, in the same order, every time.”
Last year, Tampa attorney Andy Dogali won a victory when a federal appeals court ruled the Disney lawsuits should be heard at trial.
Dogali said he does not expect to reach a settlement before the February trial after more than five years of legal fighting with Disney.
He currently represents 29 similar plaintiffs in Florida but only the case with A.L. has been set for trial.
Dogali also plans to go to trial March 31 in California in a similar legal fight over accommodations at Disney’s Anaheim parks, he said.