ATLANTA (CN) — Attorneys for more than 20 plaintiffs with autism asked the 11th Circuit on Friday to strike a ruling that stymied their efforts to secure a change in ride access policies at Disney parks.
The plaintiffs, comprised of autistic children and their parents, sued Disney in 2014 claiming they were harmed by the entertainment giant's revocation of its previous system for disability accommodations.
Under the "Guest Assistance Card" program, guests with disabilities were able to skip the long lines at the park's attractions and rides, and maximum wait times for guests under the GAC program were limited to 5 - 10 minutes.
This allowed guests with autism to move from ride to ride without deviating from their desired routine, according to the complaint.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder "may be overly dependent on routines [and] highly sensitive to changes in their environment."
Many people who suffer from autism experience "meltdowns" when forced to deviate from a routine.
A person having a meltdown may make random noises, strike out, swing their arms, hit themselves or flail wildly.
According to the complaint, the GAC program ensured that disabled guests, specifically those with cognitive impairments including autism, could enjoy the park with little risk of over-stimulation or meltdown.
But Disney nixed the program in 2013 in favor of the new "Disability Access Service" system due to alleged rampant abuse by both guests who needed GACs and those that did not.
The company claimed that people were selling counterfeit GACs and requesting the accommodation even if they didn't actually need it.
Under the new program, guests with disabilities may arrive at the attraction or ride of their choice, present their identification card and receive a scheduled time to return.
Guests are encouraged to visit other attractions in the park while they "virtually wait" for their return time, the complaint said.
Disney also issues some guests in the DAS program "readmission passes" permitting them to use the Fastpass line at any attraction without having to wait in line or wait virtually.
The plaintiffs argued that the DAS system is not an adequate accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act since it still requires them to wait and potentially suffer a meltdown.
They also claimed that Disney does not perform an individual assessment of their needs by using DAS.
The complaint stated that the new system was designed "with a goal or "benefit" in mind of substantially reducing the number of autistic and cognitively impaired persons who visit the Disney Parks."
The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief requiring Disney to modify its policy for accommodating cognitive disabilities to mirror the former GAC system.
In 2016, U.S. District Judge Anne Conway denied the group's request, ruling that the ADA does not require Disney to accommodate a guest's preference to engage in a specific routine inside the park.
Conway also ruled that DAS and readmission passes gave disabled guests sufficient access to rides since they cut wait times down significantly.
On Friday, attorneys representing the group asked the 11th Circuit panel to reverse the lower court's ruling.