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If the lawsuit over keeping disabled people waiting at Disney theme parks has merit, it should have been won already. The courts have kept it waiting for two weeks .
Granted, litigation normally takes much longer than that. But this whole case is based on the idea that it’s unjust and exclusionary to keep these plaintiffs and their families waiting. If a private company must accommodate them by letting them skip their wait, surely government courts have the same obligation.
The case, if you haven’t heard of it: Some mothers are suing Disney because it changed its policies towards disabled patrons at its theme parks. It used to be that if you had a disability, mental or physical, you could skip the lines at rides. Thus, for example, if you or someone with you didn’t have the ability to stand for an hour while waiting, you weren’t expected to wait for an hour at all. But media reports said people with disabilities were working as tour guides, in effect selling their line-skipping privilege, and this entrepreneurial activity was deemed an abuse . So Disney decided that disabled patrons should have to wait about as long as everyone else—but not on line. They’d get cards allowing them to come back and ride at about the time they’d have reached the front of the line anyway.
According to the lawsuit, that’s more than some developmentally disabled people can stand. “It is completely unreasonable for a family with a disabled member to check in at a ride, walk away and then go back,” said one plaintiff . Her son, she said, did not understand what was going on.
These patrons, the lawsuit argues, aren’t "able" to wait—so keeping them waiting violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. It denies them "access" to the rides.
But if a long wait denies these mothers’ kids access to rides, surely a much longer wait denies them access to the courts. And the principle of equal justice under law demands that everyone have access to the courts.
Of course, there are reasons court cases take a long time. One of those reasons is that there are lots of cases and relatively few judges to hear them—much as there are lots of Disney patrons and relatively few seats on rides. Also, it takes time for both sides to research the law and explore the evidence. There are a lot of factors to consider in keeping the judicial system organized. Indeed, courts need to consider the facts about litigation in general and make scheduling rules that affect cases wholesale before judges so much as glance at the particular facts of individual cases. Even given the principle of equal justice under law, the difficulty these plaintiffs and their kids have waiting doesn’t necessarily trump everything. Perhaps the courts should consider it, but they have to consider it in the context of all their priorities, just as Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly considered the deadline in the American Airlines merger case, but also considered the criminal trial she had scheduled.
But if even the government, whose courts are bound to offer justice to all, doesn’t have to let these plaintiffs skip the wait, how could it demand that Disney do so? If the courts get to consider the plaintiffs' needs in the context of other priorities, why shouldn't Disney have the same freedom?
I’m not saying, of course, that Disney shouldn’t be more accommodating. Maybe it should be. But Disney needs to be able to make rules and run its system as it sees fit. If the law says these families’ inability to wait trumps Disney’s right to organize its theme parks, the government that made that law has imposed on Disney restrictions it has not imposed on itself. Those who understand why the government can’t drop everything to attend to these plaintiffs should understand that Disney has other priorities too.