Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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Lawsuit Against Disney For Lack Of Accessibility

It has just been announced that there is a class action lawsuit being lodged against Disney for “Inaccessible Websites and Failure to Accommodate Blind Persons in Violation of ADA”. This is an interesting lawsuit, worth keeping an eye on what is happening.

The Lawsuit

The suit was filed by 3 individuals with vision impairments. Plaintiffs basically are saying that Disney isn’t doing much, if anything, to address the needs of people with visual impairments. The lawsuit seems to make the following points:

  • Plaintiffs says Disney’s website have to meet ADA requirements.
  • Disney’s website do not meet these requirements
    • Sites have audio & video trailers that can’t be turned off without a mouse.
    • Same audio & video trailers’ sound drown out screen reader output.
    • Sites have Flash element that are not accessible to blind people

According to the press release, in addition to the website issues, the plaintiffs are also saying that:

Disney unlawfully discriminates against blind patrons, by refusing to reasonably accommodate the needs of guests with guide dogs, refusing to provide functional audio technology, refusing to provide Braille menus, schedules and maps, and more.

But Disney Just Won An Accessibility Award

It is very interesting to note that just before the plaintiffs lodged their suit, Disney won one of the 2011 Accessibility Awards from the American Foundation for the Blind. Part of why they won is because of the implementation of a small electronic device which gives audio description and captions of surroundings and rides.

Another Lawsuit Against Disney

Just last week, it was announced that a quadriplegic man is suing Disney for leaving him on a ride, not attending to medical needs, and not having an evacuation procedure in place.

Bad Case?

Is this lawsuit a bad case? Many disability rights advocate said that the discrimination case of the 2 airline pilots who needed glasses was a bad case to file under ADA (see SUTTON V. UNITED AIR LINES, INC. (97-1943)). Advocates were claiming it was not a strong suit and it would not end in favour of the plaintiffs. That in the end, it would create bad case law that would not serve people with disabilities. They were right – as a result of "Sutton", the definition of disability under the ADA was greatly reduced.

So, is the Disney website a bad case? It’s soon to tell. I’m not a lawyer, so take what I say as coming from the informed perspective of having been around the disability rights movement and been involved with various class action suits over the last 15 + years.

It’s good that:

  • Disney is taken to task over the lack of access on the site
  • Disney is taken to task over lack of accommodation for people with guide dogs

It’s bad that:

  • The suit only raises accessibility issues for blind & visually impaired folks

Two Separate Issues

The website and the parks are two entirely separate issues. The suit should have focused on one issue at a time – and it seems like the strongest issue is that of website lack of access.

It’s also risky to have lodged a complaint against Disney’s parks lacking accommodation in view of their award win. If it ever makes it to court, this is likely to confuse the jurors.


There is very little case law around ADA requirements for websites. This is because most of these suits are settled out of court. With a settlement, there is no case law. So I’ll be interested to see if this case does make it to court of if Disney settles.

Working Together

Historically, different disability groups haven’t worked together much. It’s time we all worked together to improve everyone’s situation. In this case, lack of access impacts. A suit for lack of accessibility of Disney’s website would have been much stronger as a class action suit if the plaintiffs had rallied with folks with hearing impairments, mobility impairments, and any other people with disabilities who encounter barriers on Disney’s website because of their disability. That would have made a stronger case, and had the potential for better case law.

Time Will Tell

Will this suit have good results like the Sydney Olympics or Target lawsuits, or will it leave "bad" case law like Sutton? Don’t know yet. We’ll see.

Stay tuned, folks!