NO MORE DISABLED PEOPLE AT DISNEY!
That’s the general misguided nonsense a surprising number of bloggers, media outlets, and other anonymous sources have been throwing around the internets, and for someone who calls Disney her “second home,” it’s pretty darn disappointing.
Everybody take a deep breath and calm the pixie dust down so we can talk facts. Not fairy tales.
Yes, Disney is making changes to its Guest Assistance Program (GAC), soon to be called the Disability Access Service Card (DASC).
And no, it’s not designed to make life more difficult for guests with disabilities.
To those who may not know about it, the GAC is a free service offered at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland that allows for certain accommodations for guests requiring special assistance. Handicapped visitors and those with “invisible” disabilities alike can gain access to alternate attraction entrances, use their child- and adult-size strollers as wheelchairs, and if available, sit in a shaded waiting area without losing their place in line. Other accommodations can include preferential viewing at shows for guests with visual or auditory impairments.
The card, obtained from City Hall, is dated and stamped with the required accommodation(s) — stroller as wheelchair and alternate attraction entrance (through the exit or FastPass lane) are the two most common. It also includes the name of the guest requiring assistance and number of people in the entire party. Typically, the GAC can be used for up to six guests at once.
Due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Disney’s Cast Members can’t ask for proof of disabilities in their North American Parks. And, while families (like mine) who deal with disabilities on a daily basis would have absolutely NO PROBLEM providing any kind of documentation, be it an IEP (cumbersome as an entire binder filled to the brim would be) or note from a doctor, neurologist, or therapist, this “loophole” led to a number of able-bodied, neurotypical people scamming the system.
Yes, people were pretending to have an autistic child, physical disability, or even a terminal illness to just to get a GAC, thereby getting to “skip the lines.”
And that is why we can’t have nice things.
My own son has Asperger’s Syndrome and had a stroke in utero, which means he’s challenged with a lot of developmental delays whose hallmarks low muscle tone, decreased balance, trouble with depth perception, sensory input issues make it difficult to stand for long periods of time. Coupled with the anxiety and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) that often comes with being on the spectrum, we’re ecstatic that he can do it at all.
And while we had never used a GAC before, we did decide to request one during our first ever trip to Disneyland over the summer. We went prepared with several copies of a brief letter from our pediatrician explaining our son’s special needs, and though the Cast Member we spoke with said it wasn’t necessary to share it, we went ahead and did anyway. After engaging our son in friendly conversation for a little bit, the Cast Member asked what would make our experience easier for him and filled out our GAC accordingly.
Never did the GAC give us VIP access, allow us to cut the line or even act as a FastPass. It did give us a return pass (almost like a GAC FastPass) for the Radiator Springs Racers ride, which to my understanding, is how the DASC will work in the future. (I must admit, I’m curious to know more about how allotting time slots for the disabled will work, especially since we were unable to return to experience the ride during the window we were given.)
Overall, the GAC gave our son a bit of a break from having a disability. Not really, of course, but instead of feeling special for the wrong reasons, he had the chance to embrace them for the right ones.
Think about why we had the GAC to begin with. Having a child who NEVER NEEDS ONE would be incredible, but that’s not how life has played out for us. We would never trade our son for a neurotypical one, but his disabilities are no super power either. They are simply his and our reality, and we all work hard as hell to manage them.
As for whether the new DASC will work for our family? I won’t know until we head to the Parks in January. What I do know is that Disney’s Cast Members have always been kind and accommodating, making my son feel valued for being himself. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
What’s more, I’m willing to give Disney the benefit of the doubt and work with them through constructive feedback based on experience to make sure the program works for everyone involved. I hope you will do the same.
The following information was sent to me directly from a director at Disney and gives you all the facts you need to know about the changes to the GAC program moving forward:
In our continued efforts to keep you in the loop of Disney experiences that touch families, we would like to share an upcoming change in the Guest Assistance Card. Disney has an unwavering commitment to making our experiences accessible to all Guests. After careful consideration, we will be replacing the Guest Assistance Card with the new Disability Access Service Card on Oct. 9 to create a more consistent experience for all our Guests while providing accommodations for Guests with disabilities. Until Oct. 9, we will continue to use Guest Assistance Cards. We look forward to sharing more information about the Disability Access Service Card as we get closer to implementation.
I was also sent an FAQ that can help answer more of your questions:
How will the new Disney program work?
The Disability Access Service Card will offer Guests a return time for an attraction based on the current wait time. Guest Assistance Cards will continue to be in effect until Oct. 9. We look forward to sharing more information as we get closer to implementation.
Did Disney receive assistance in developing the Disability Access Service Card?
Yes, Disney is engaging disability groups, and Autism Speaks was instrumental in providing feedback as we developed this new process.
Why is Disney making these changes?
Given the increasing volume of requests Disney receives for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process beginning Oct. 9 so that it creates a more consistent experience for all our Guests while providing accommodations for Guests with disabilities.
Who will be eligible for a Disability Access Service Card?
Our goal is to accommodate Guests who aren’t able to wait in a conventional queue environment due to a disability (including non-apparent disabilities).
Will Guests on wish trips also use Disability Access Service Cards?
No. Guests who are visiting through wish-granting organizations will have access through a separate program.
What should Guests do if they have concerns?
Guests should contact Guest Relations to discuss their assistance needs.
Don’t forget. While Disney is the Happiest Place on Earth, and Cast Members are there to make your visit magical, they are NOT medical professionals. Open conversation about your disability, your child’s disability, and what is necessary to accommodate them within reason is critical to helping this fledgling program work in a way that benefits those who need it most.
Photo credits: Pilar Clark
Travelhound Pilar wouldn’t mind being at Walt Disney World eating the ears off a Mickey ice cream bar right about now. But, since she can’t be at her “second home” year round, she curates happy thoughts on Disney Social Media Magic, a virtual springboard where breaking news and other Disneyfied thingamabobs are shared. For more mouse-minded geekery, join Pilar on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and personal site, One Mom Media.