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Disney Reportedly Altering Special Needs Access At Parks

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Big changes may be in store for a Disney program that has allowed theme-park guests with disabilities to skip to the front of the line for many rides.

Disney is doing away with its current Guest Assistance Card program, according to a report on the website MiceChat. Instead, the company’s parks will reportedly implement a new program known as the Disabled Assistance System.

Rather than bypass wait times, under the new system guests with disabilities will be able to request access to a ride at special kiosks at the company’s Florida and California parks and then return to the ride at a specified time. While individuals would not be required to wait in a line, they could only request access to one ride at a time, the website reports.

Word of the possible change comes just months after reports that wealthy families were paying people with disabilities $130 per hour to serve as “guides” so that they could avoid long lines during visits to Disney World.

The new system will officially roll out on Oct. 9, according to MiceChat. At that point, passes issued to individuals with disabilities will reportedly include a photo in an effort to prevent abuse.

A Disney spokeswoman, who did not want to be named, declined to comment on the record and would only tell Disability Scoop that the company is “looking at” its current program.

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Comments (47 Responses)

  1. Carol says:

    Using the disabled for personal purposes is WRONG on so many levels.

  2. Kate says:

    I’m sorry to hear that Disney is doing that and that people abused the accomidation. I have a daughter with a disability and have used that service, which was great. The “new” service is one that is already in place for everyone. You can get a time to return to a ride now, so I’m not sure how this is helpful for people with disabilities, they will still be in line with everyone else who has that time to return. Thanks, Kate

  3. Julie Foxx says:

    Is this a ligit source? The program they are describing is the same as the fast pass program currently available to all park visitors. I have a friend who is a WDW travel agent with a child with special needs. I’m going to run this by her. When I was there in July, I asked them if they had planned to change the program because of those morons – they told us that changes were being discussed but nothing was concrete.

  4. Ami says:

    “While individuals would not be required to wait in a line, they could only request access to one ride at a time, the website reports.”

    So I am going to have to return to a kiosk with my son after every ride before he can go on to the next one? In a place the size of Disney? Seriously?

  5. Sandy Hemmer says:

    I want to say first up, we use these passes with our son who has autism. They help immensely with preventing meltdowns. I do hope Disney keeps these passes. However, in your article, you mention these passes allow people to jump to the front of the line. We use the pass when the lines are longer than 10 minutes or so to avoid meltdowns but only after we have checked for a fastpass option. If there is no fastpass option, we are allowed to enter the fastpass line along with everyone who has a timed fastpass (using the guest assistance pass). We follow the fastpass rules. You do not jump to the head of the line, but rather enter the fastpass line as if you have a fastpass. The only people that jump to the head of the line as far as I am aware, would be terminally ill children who Disney escorts to the front. And so it should be. We appreciate all Disney does to help our family have a magical, meltdown free visit. I hope that those few who abused the system have not now forever damaged that possibility.

  6. Autistic Dad says:

    The way the new program is being set up it will have a very negative impact on the families of children with autism or asperger’s. Those children will not longer be able to enjoy the park as they have in the past.

  7. fairlady68 says:

    This is what happens when some people misuse a good system and spoil it for everyone else.

  8. Cesar says:

    Try “Morgan’s Wonderland” park here in San Antonio, Tx. It caters to all types of disabilities. Really
    nice park for everyone to enjoy.

  9. Alisa Richards says:

    I have a son with autism and we go to Disney World every year and do all the parks and stay at a Disney resort. It is the only place where we ALL get to enjoy because of the Guest Assistence Pass. Every other vacation we have ever had has been exhausting because of my sons meltdowns. My daughter goes through so much too having a brother with special needs and this is her one reward that she looks forward to because her brother is Autistic. I would be so sad if this is the end of the Magic for us.

  10. Lynn says:

    Wrong answer. Have data base or ask for ID if the disabled individual is not related they can not use the pass. By putting new system in place will make it difficult for disabled individual to access enough rides to make it worth the expensive tickets! Bad move Disney!

  11. Sandra says:

    Yes, this is a legit program. Because of abuses, they are having to find another way to offer accommodations to people with disabilities when it comes to waiting in line. None of us know the full details yet, but it appears that you can continue to use the regular Fast Passes (which is what we do with our son who has autism) and/or you can get a return time that lets you essentially go through the FP lane. Part of the problem is that, as was erroneously stated in this article, people believe that the Guest Assistance Card was a front-of-the-line pass, which it never was intended to be. Rather, it alerted the CM at the attraction that you needed a particular accommodation to experience the ride, like waiting in a seated area until your party moved to the front of the line, or being seated in an area with reflective captioning. Unfortunately, because many CMs put people with the GAC in the Fast Pass line, folks have assumed and demanded that they be allowed to jump ahead with the card. This of course not only creates an opportunity for dishonest folks to exploit, but also builds resentment against those with disabilities who are seen as getting special treatment rather than just reasonable accommodations. I’m glad they are going to do something about this issue, but I doubt we’ve seen the final form yet. Hopefully people will comment to Disney on their experiences with the new system in a constructive way, so that appropriate adjustments can make the system fair to all.

  12. Stan says:

    My understanding is that the GAC never allowed folks to skip lines — simply to use an alternate entrance or wait in an air conditioned room instead of baking in the sun.

    What I don’t get is why on earth so many parents of kids with special needs who cannot cope with crowds, loud noises and waiting in line take their kids to Disney on vacation? Is a theme park not the definition of hell for a kid with autism?

  13. Elita says:

    I was wondering who at Disney could be contacted regarding this. It is hard enough to take a child to Disney with the plan they have in place now. It is great for the rides and events that will honor the pass, however, some rides at Disney don’t even honor the passes at all. When you have a child that doesn’t have the stamina (and respiratory ability) to walk and wait all day and is too old and big for the rental strollers they offer, doesn’t want to be in a wheelchair or a stroller, it can be really trying and take a lot of fun out of going. If they do implement the new policy, I just feel it will be so difficult to go to one place get a pass then have to come back at a specific time when you are somewhere else maybe on the otherside of the park. Shame on the people who abuse it. Disney needs to look at the majority of people who really need the passes and I would like to email them about it and hope more parents will too.

  14. Robin says:

    Figures. Only making things harder for people that have so many challenges in the first place, let alone trying to take a vacation like the average person. I think this is an over reaction to the problem. Definitely will make me rethink about going back to Disney, which is unfair to my disabled child. Disney should rethink this one.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Such a paternalistic system to ask “permission” for each ride.
    We could only hope with all the creativity at Disney that this is the only
    way to give the disabled access to the rides….one freaking step
    (or roll of the wheel) for every freaking ride. Way to go Disney.
    Thanks all you so very wealthy and so very privileged folks who
    can’t be bothered to wait in line and WALK freely from ride to ride.

  16. Teresa Roberts says:

    That is a new low to bypass a ride. Money allows you choices, not free reign. So, the “real” people, with real disabilities have to be penalized again. This program set up by Disney was particularly helpful for people with developmental disabilities. Some whom are 25 years old, but mentally age 4. I hope Disney rethinks. There will always be self serving losers.

  17. Teresa Roberts says:

    In this event, I will avoid all Disney and Universal theme parks. Passing this on to thousands of people who will not benefit from previous special services. One bad apple or 100, will ruin wonderful vacations. My son’s caregiver plans for months before he takes him to Disney. Other people do too.

  18. Kathleen says:

    Its a shame a few greedy people decided to capitalize on and take advantage of a privilege alot of us who can only dream of one day saving enough to vring our disabled child to a place like disneyworld …my son has never been and likely never will so my thoughts are probably moot…but i think its wrong to ruin what was meant to be an assist for disabled kids to enjoy a day in their life.

  19. Lesia says:

    I was going to bring my severely disabled son to a Disney Park for his make-A-wish, but now not so sure of that. I think that this is an outrage to change things because of a very few that have done this and I do understand that having a disabled child is expensive to say the least, but still people don’t let the few out-weigh the majority.

  20. Elva says:

    I have a daughter with special needs she is 5yrs old and has cerebral palsy she loves Disneyland and when we would go it was great to have the disability pass because she can’t stand for to long so it’s great to be able to have a short wait. She does have a wheel chair but some of those disabled entry’s don’t have enough space for her chair so she would have to get up and walk or I would carry her. If Disneyland ends up taking the disability pass away or making it longer for us to wait then we will no longer be visiting Disneyland. Why give my hard errand money to a company that is welling to make things harder for people with disabilities. Maybe showing proof or using there handicap plaque

  21. Avery'smom says:

    I do not have a child with a disability but I have however worked many years with children and adults who do have disabilities. It is a complete shame that perfectly healthy grown adults would even think that is it ok or acceptable to pay anyone to hold a place in line for their lazy behinds so that they don’t have to stand in line to ride a ride at Disney World/Land…..and that this is what would ruin a wonderful program for children that truly need and what makes coming to the parks more enjoyable for them and their parents. I really hope that Disney can work through this not punish those that really need this service. I will stand in line a few more minutes any day just so a child with a disability can enjoy a ride anyday and set straight anyone who had a problem with that because awareness and acceptance for all should be taught to all.

  22. marie camp says:

    That is a very reasonable accomadation and I think most people will like that idea very much.Thanks Disney for taking the bull by the horns and doing something. I wish Congress was just as fast on didability issues.

  23. Mary says:

    And those with disabilities and their families /caregivers loose yet again-
    Approaching problems of abuse should punish those who are taking advantage of the disabled- those inconsiderate self serving, entitled and economically advantaged people.
    Spend a day in a wheel chair, or pushing one; stopping to do tube feedings or provide personal care in a public bathroom- and say you’d prefer to have a disability to be first in line.
    Its hard to say which is sadder- the people trying to take advantage or Disney’s lack of insight into this and a more effective approach to the problem.
    Disney has for so long been a place that made a real vacation a possibilities for those with even the most severe disabilities- SAD DAY.

  24. Recreation Therapist says:

    This is so difficult to do when we bring a group of people with disabilities to the park. We try to go around the park in an orderly fashion so we’re not running back and forth across the park and wasting time all day. This will force us to go back and forth between rides, thus missing many rides throughout the day… assuming one of our clients aren’t using the toilet at the return time, or needing to eat at that certain time because they take meds then… or any other number of unforseeable events such as our folks with autism having meltdowns because they can’t go on a ride when they want to… this is more than unjust and unfair. This is discrimination and not a reasonable accommodation- not that an amusement park is held to such standards, but still irrational- especially for the community of people with disabilities. Way to go, Disneyland…. you’re not using all your faculties to figure out a good solution to a problem. You get a Maximal Assist for Problem Solving on the Functional Independence Measure (inside joke for therapists).

  25. Tessa says:

    According to their website they, along with Universal, are doing away with letting certain special needs on rides that they have always been allowed on. My daughter who is strapped in from head to toe in her wheelchair and her wheelchair strapped to the ride, can no longer ride one that she HAS been on before, because she cannot hold on to the bar herself. And I’m talking a safe ride, not something like the roller coaster. Yet, a 5 year old can ride and no staff member is going to go on the ride with that 5 year old to ensure she/he holds on to the bar the entire ride yet because my child is disabled she is signaled out due to her disability and not allowed to ride. Very very disappointed in Disney and Universal Studios and the apparent discrimination to the special needs. What’s the point in paying so much money for your child to only be allowed to get on the merry go round or what a show? Stupid!

  26. Deanna Graham says:

    We have enjoyed Busch Gardens in Florida much more than Disney. Our middle child has cognitive impairments and is on the autism spectrum. The park is not as crowded and they are wonderful at accommodating our family’s needs.

  27. Rene Steelman says:

    One suggestion that might help cut down on abuse, don’t rent wheelchairs! If you truly need equipment because you have a disability ,you will already own it!

  28. Wendy Calcaterra says:

    I wish we had known this when we booked our November reservations in July. My son is autistic, and we have been lucky to be able to enjoy the benefits of the GAC in the past. Because of it, we took annual trips to Disney because it was one of the few places where we could all be happy. We will obviously not be able to do that anymore, as the walking back and forth to every ride twice will cut his tolerance in half. I do, however, understand the position that Disney has been put into by people taking advantage of the system. I’ve seen it myself. I guess we are lucky to have enjoyed it up until this point, and will always have those memories.

  29. Gwen Robbins Schug says:

    This hurts. When my family went to Disney World last winter, my AS son and I went to the front of every line but that did not mean we rode rides immediately. There was long process of the ride workers explaining the ride, going in the back and sitting in a car to see how it was going to feel, watching his dad and brother go on the ride first and meeting them at the end to discuss the ride, then finally going back and riding (sometimes after more discussion). We never waited in line but that simply allowed us the half hour or more to prepare for the ride once we got to the gates. This new policy means families will wait up to an hour for each ride before they can even start the process to get on (which has to occur at the gate so that autistic kids can see the ride and talk to the employees, if that is what they need to go on). I will not take my kids to Disney now. I can’t. There are other solutions to this issue that would limit abuse but this solution makes Disney inaccessible to kids with autism. My son got a lot of going to Disney World. He was proud of himself and I cried when he conquered his anxiety and went on space mountain with the care and help of the staff. The staff and I even hugged when it was over. It was an extremely moving experience for all of us. My younger son had a relatively carefree, fun time (rare for him too) and it was just a hugely positive and important experience for all of us. I am so sad that other families will not experience that now and my family will never experience it again. I hope Disney will reconsider this policy ad find some other way to prevent rick people from abusing the system.

  30. Peggy Champagne says:

    We have an autistic son with multiple sensory issues. We took him to Disney World in 2006. We were not aware of the passes for the disabled. He and I rode the monorail and train in circles for 5 days while my husband and older son enjoyed the parks. So disappointing!
    We came again in 2008 and 2011. By then we were aware of the pass and our baby had a ball! Exciting for all of us. I brought medical documentation with me and didn’t need it. Seemed too easy for abuse to enter the picture. I appreciated the understanding Disney had of our plight.

  31. Kim says:

    This is the same policy that Universal has..which is ANNOYING and not customer friendly. It is ridiculous to have to stand around in the hot sun with a special needs child (or adult) to wait for your “time”. My son has autism and Disney’s current plan helps us out immensely with our trips to the park. How about verifying the disability instead of cutting off the benefit for everyone? Each year we go and I try to present a letter from my kid’s PCP, they won’t even look at it. I get the whole ADA thing…but that’s a better way of verifying the disability instead of changing what is a huge reason why families with special needs family members go to Disney parks. You shouldn’t change the entire program just because some a-holes decided to game the system.

    And for the person who asks why we take our kids to loud theme parks..its because we want to, because disabled persons have a right to go where they want to go, and public places have a legal obligation to make reasonable accomodations…and as much as Disney tickets costs, this new plan is NOT a reasonable accomodation. If you don’t understand the sensitivity of having a loved one with a disability, just hush.

  32. Paige says:

    While we try to take our autistic son to Disney on off peak time the pass allows him to enjoy his time and siblings. His father and I never used his medical pass for ourselves but always used the fast pass option and took turns with rides. I think it is smart on Disneys behalf to have a photo I’d for the disabled child but am concerned how he will be able to utilize the fast pass option fr his needs. What will he be able t do while we wait for his designated time to approach? I hope when they try this dry run that they are able to fine tune some of these issues. The drive to Disney is hard enough….he loves his trip there…especially when we filter his stimulation.

  33. Stacy says:

    To Stan: Yes some children on the Autism Spectrum can not handle crowds. However let me say that our son has been going to Disney for the past 3 years despite being on the spectrum. He has noise sensitivity at times and anxiety with crowds, but unlike other public places our son has thrived being at Disney. Its the perfect therapy tool out there. Every time we go we learn new things about our son as well as overcome other issues. This is where we learned that our son won’t step on cracks (anyone who’s been there will know abut the grid pattern from parking lot before you enter the security on the far right). Disney is the only park that fully accommodates anyone with disabilities and food allergies. The others are trying but not as hard as Disney does.
    The fact that people use and abuse a system for anyone who needs that extra care is appalling and disgusting. The new system is the same as a fast past and will not fully accommodate. Let those of us who followed the rules and got letters from therapists and doctors to confirm diagnoses and properly asked for assistance still get it. This is a shame.

  34. Jen says:

    This is unfortuneate. I am 35 and have never been to either Disney World or Disney Land. Now with 2 kids of my own, one with autism (PDD) who is prone to meltdowns, I fear we will never be able to enjoy the land of Mickey Mouse and the Magic Castle because of selfish ding-bats like those who abused this service:(

  35. Bernie says:

    Guess I’ll cross Disney off the list of places I intend to take my son one day. Guess that alos answers the question how low can wealthy people stoop.

  36. alison kinch says:

    What a shame that once again a few people who take advantage of a good system ruin it for those who can really use it. I so want to take my child there but he has a very difficult time waiting and if it’s a ride he likes he’s going to go right back and do it again. When I read the article about rich families hiring disabled people to take advantage of the system, I was afraid this would happen. Would proving that the person is a family member be a good idea? Hoping you find a better solution.

  37. diane myers says:

    first: the guest assistance pass was/is not “a front of the line pass”. So many people are incorrect in this perception and continue to publish that way. The Guest Assistance Pass, of which there were at least 3 versions, provided accomodation totally dependent on what the guest’s issue/disability might be. In our case, my son is autistic – his pass was stamped “use alternate entrance”. Generally speaking on most attractions, he/we (as it was the “dis”abled person and up to five in their party should the guest be at the parks with family) showed the pass to the first cast member we encountered at any given attraction and were told to use the “fast pass return line”. This is NOT a front of the line pass, but due to the anxiety regarding crowds and waiting, was an accommodation for autisic guests. The only “front of the line pass” given to any guest is through the “Make a Wish” foundation for extremely, chronically ill children. My son loves disney, but he can only “stand” so much of the parks before sensory overload occurs, anxiet and sometimes panic ensues. If disney adopts the go get a time, come back to ride etc. for its attractions, the parks will become inaccessible for many people on the autism spectrum.

  38. Mark Hart says:

    I am 49 years old born with spina bifida! I have had the pleasure of using the disability pass at Disney
    I agree changes need to be made because of the abuse! Maybe medical records or note from doctors
    Saying what disability that person may have. I have my own mobility scooter and I feel that if a person is
    Truly disabled then they will have there own medical device. Disney makes it to easy with scooter rental to
    Have this kind of abuse! Also having seen it 1st hand if you use this pass then the person with the disability
    Needs to ride the ride! Don’t get the family to the front then back out!

  39. SpEdMomma says:

    The disgusting, vile, selfish, wealthy elite who abused this program should be charged with fraud and publicly shamed! Name names!!! Scum of the Earth! Karma Karma Karma!

  40. DONNA KORNACKI CHAPMAN says:

    WOW THIS IS SUCH A SHAME.I have two sons with autism we have been to disney many times because of the special assistance pass .I don’t think my sons will understand that once you go to a ride you can’t ride it this sounds like the formula for a serious melt down .I also have a daughter who misses so much because of her brothers disability .We are currently planning a trip to disney this november maybe we shouldn’t go now.This makes me so sad and changes my felling about disney .When a family goes to town hall they can tell when someone is severely autistic and who resembles their parents come on disney .

  41. Nancy Wirta says:

    What a shame on Disney.And a bigger shame on anyone that may have let the rich pay them to use their disability for a guide.

  42. Sharon says:

    I am sad to hear that Disney has stopped the passes. We’ve used them for many years. Our society is so worried about being fair. Unfortunately, life has not been fair to these kids and their parents. I’d stand in the longest line, with the crankiest child, with a neuro typical child . If this is true, we will not be returning to Walt Disney World. :( How sad. My favorite picture ever of my son, was taken at Disney World with Pluto. He had the biggest smile and was happier than I’d ever seen him. I had it made into a blanket, and it says “The Magic of Disney.” I see a generation of children with autism no longer being able to go without stressing them or their parents. Why should they have to come back? Or get a fast pass? Silly.

  43. Nancy says:

    Here is another spin…for $130 an hour a person with a disability is able to enjoy a theme park; maybe educate his/her employer ( Rich Family} about spending the day with a person who has a disability; and make some money. Disney could have encouraged this model as creating opportunities for “Integrated Recreating and Fun!” and done a whole sitcom about a tour guide’s experience.

    I for one was excited to see a different kind of opportunity for a person with a disability–one where he/she is needed to open doors at communities. As long as the tour guide is empowered to play a role in the relationship and truly serve as a “Disney” guide I think it is a win/win.

    Hey maybe Disney will hire people with disabilities to be Mousketeer Mentors–creating an employment and career ladder for people with disabilities who “love Disney” and want to help others learn to love Disney through their eyes. Other benefit, kids with disabilities, parents and the community will see people with disabilities in a new way–as someone who is teaching and supporting them vs. being viewed or treated as needing “all the support”.

    Just Saying…

    For $130 an hour…maybe the “rich families” have discovered a way to “underwrite the new program”!

  44. Robert Schlier says:

    I hope disney lets a person who has a disabled child or adult make the final decision in this mater , it take a life of living with a disabled child to understand the impact of this if disney decides to procide

  45. Jon says:

    This new plan will NOT work for families who have children with Autism. Children with Autism cannot wait in lines and can not deal with change. The fast pass system will NOT work. With one in 50 children being diagnosed with Autism, sell that Disney stock now.. We have been five times, we will NOT return! Nice job Disney.. you are punishing the children who need this pass because of the scumbags who lie. How about cracking down on the liars? You should be ashamed!

  46. Tendai says:

    I sure hope Disney puts more thought into the new policy and consult with advocates and experts in disability laws and rights. Having to go to a kiosk for every ride isn’t quite access and that would require a whole lot more walking than my back is capable of allowing. I for sure would have to rent a scooter from Disney because my cane would not be enough. Disney World is quite huge and requires more walking than I can do so I probably would need to rent one anyway. I don’t own one because I basically am homebound except for a few times a year when I take a lot of prednisone just so I can tolerate when my family and I can leave town. Disney was on a short list for our next vacation but I am going to have to wait and see how Disney decides to go on this issue. Not only am I disabled physically, my 6 year old has autism and we were probably going to Disney next specifically because their accommodations have exceeded the letter of the law as well as the spirit of the law. Providing Disney with medical information from my doctor like diagnoses would probably confuse most CM and it’s personal. My private health information shouldn’t be on display to people who are not my healthcare providers. Requiring that visitors provide health and medical information isn’t part of ADA and is not providing access.

    Maybe it should be acceptable to show disability placards but that doesn’t help those who are from other countries, nor those who don’t have a vehicle thus no need for a placard, nor people who flew to Disney. Just how many rich people hired disabled people to do this? Is this such a pervasive epidemic that is worth cutting off access? So many people who have come to view Disney as not just accommodating but disability-friendly? Disney World and Disney Land has built up such a good reputation in this area.

    This doesn’t seem like a good solution to stop abuses and seems more like a solution to stop providing access. How many kiosks will there be? Will we still be waiting in line in the hot sun to get permission to go wait in another line? If asking for permission for one ride at a time would cut down on the rides I would be “allowed” to ride one because all my time would be used up running back and forth. Paying more isn’t access either. It is saying we’ll only follow the law IF you pay this fee. Also having to ask permission for a ride is not access. Does everyone have to ask permission for rides? No. We asked permission at the entrance when we paid our fee. This will only make people with disabilities feel like second class citizens. Besides it is our lawful to have access even if it seems like special treatment to some people who aren’t living the life.

  47. Maria Hrabowski says:

    1. If the person with disability can earn money and visit Disneyland on someone’s else cost by being “typical peer’s guide” it is really no abuse but unexpected benefit.
    2.When I tried to wait with my son – already 19 – in a line, tat seems short enough for him to be fine, I was heartbroken watching little children observing critically my son, as he was “just ” flapping his hands” in excitement. I think they did not like to be in his close proximity, even though he was not doing anything wrong. My son did not “flap his hands” when he was waiting with other people with disabilities for his turn in other rides. I think that being in line with much smaller children was very uncomfortable for him.
    3. we had a great time at Disneyland. My son’s favorite site on his IPAD is to watch movie about Disnayland and relive the experience, he probably won’t be able to repeat.

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