A California district court judge has granted class action status in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by three Disneyland Resort annual passholders who claim that Disney's theme parks and websites discriminate against blind and visually-impaired guests.
Disneyland Resort spokesperson Suzi Brown said in a statement, "We are disappointed with the court’s decision, however, the ruling does not mean that the plaintiffs have proved any of their claims. Disney has long been at the forefront of providing accessibility and services to our guests with disabilities, including innovative, proprietary technologies for guests with visual disabilities, and our efforts have been recognized with numerous awards and honors."
The original suit sought certification for 10 different classes, based on claims of discrimination in several areas of the theme park experience.
1) Disney Character class. The plaintiffs allege that Disney theme parks violate the Americans with Disabilities act with a policy prohibiting costumed Disney characters from interacting with guests who are accompanied by a service animal. The specific case cited in the complaint was an experience one of the plaintiffs had in at the Crystal Palace character meal at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World in November, 2009. The plaintiff claims that she was denied interaction with the characters because of her service animal, and that restaurant cast members and Guest Relations managers told her that this was due to Disney policy.
2) Signage class. The plaintiffs allege that Disney theme parks violate the ADA by not providing sufficient Braille or large print signage, menus or show schedules; and do not train cast members to read restaurant menus in full to blind guests.
3) Map class. The plaintiffs allege that Disney theme parks violate the ADA by not providing portable Braille or large print maps, and by not placing Braille maps in multiple locations around the theme parks.
4) Kennel class. The plaintiffs allege that Disney theme parks violate the ADA by charging blind guests to use the theme park kennels. They also claim that there are "no reasonable designated areas for service animals to defecate," and complain that blind guests are not allowed to tie assistance animals up somewhere in the theme park so they can go on rides that can not accommodate animals.
5) Audio description device class. The plaintiffs complain that the audio description device offered at Disney theme parks has an auto shut-off feature, and can not be restarted by a blind guest without returning to Guest Relations.
6) Companion ticket class. The plaintiffs allege that Disney theme parks violate the ADA by refusing to provide a cast member to help a visually impaired guest navigate the theme parks, and require the guest to pay full price for a companion ticket if they bring an assistant with them.
7) Parade class. The plaintiffs allege that Disney theme parks discriminate against blind guests by excluding blind guests who do not use wheelchairs from the parade and show seating areas reserved for the disabled.
8) Locker class. The plaintiffs allege that blind guests can not use the new lockers installed at the Disney theme parks, because the lockers use a touch-screen interface, the locker locations are not staffed with a cast member who can assist blind guests, and because the locker combination is printed on a slip of paper.
9) Website class. The plaintiffs allege that blind guests are denied access to "the numerous goods, services and benefits offered to the public" through the Disney websites because the sites are not compatible with screen reader technology.
10) Parking class. The plaintiffs allege that the parking lots and structure at the Disneyland Resort violate the ADA and applicable California codes, specifically because they are not located closest to the accessible entrances; do not meet the standards for newly-constructed facilities; do not have detectable warnings at curbs, along walkways or at hazardous vehicle areas.
The plaintiffs presented their case during a hearing in April, and the judge issued a Certification Order at the end of June to certify some of the classes as proposed; to deny certification of some of the classes; and to certify one with required modifications.
1) Disney Character class. Denied.
2) Signage class. Certified.
3) Map class. Denied.
4) Kennel class. Certified in part. The judge required the class description to be rewritten to exclude the complaint about kennel fees, citing only one other complaint. The judge also rejected the argument about a lack of facilities to tie up a guide dog while the handler went on rides, citing the ADA requirements that "A service animal shall be under the control of its handler,” and “A public accommodation is not responsible for the care or supervision
of a service animal.” The judge found that there were enough complaints about a lack of relief areas for service animals to certify a class on that issue.
5) Audio description device class. Certified.
6) Companion ticket class. Certified
7) Parade class. Certified.
8) Locker class. Denied.
9) Website class. Certified.
10) Parking class. Denied.
I'm surprised at some of the decisions made here, just based on my own experiences at the theme parks, and based on reports from people I know who have taken guide dogs to the theme parks.
I was not at all surprised that the character class was denied, and suspect that the situation reported was an isolated incident. Malcon10t can probably produce hundreds of photos of her dogs with dozens of Disney characters, and a "very good friend" of several characters has told me that there is no such policy in place at either Disneyland or Walt Disney World.
I personally expected the locker class to be certified, in that the new lockers are very difficult for a blind person to use. I did not expect the kennel class to be certified at all, and certainly not on the basis of a lack of relief areas for service dogs. In my experience, that just simply is not the case, and I've never heard a handler complain that there wasn't anywhere for their dog to relieve themselves.
That said, class certification is simply a determination of numerosity and commonality, not a judgement of the facts of the case itself. In the issue of the lockers, it may be a legitimate problem, but the plaintiffs could not produce evidence to indicate that there were sufficient members to form a class. Apparently there have been enough complaints about relief areas that the judge decided to certify the class, though I suspect the plaintiffs might lose that one at trial.
The lawyers are now seeking additional members of each class. I don't know when this might actually go to trial.