Disney is offering new details about changes to its policy for accommodating theme park visitors with disabilities.
Starting Wednesday, Disney parks in Florida and California will roll out a new pass known as the Disability Access Service Card for visitors with special needs who are not able to wait in traditional lines. It will replace the Guest Assistance Card.
Company officials said the change comes after its existing program — which often allowed visitors with disabilities and their guests to skip to the front of long lines for park attractions — was “abused and exploited.” Disney said the problems were “widespread and growing at an alarming rate.”
“After careful consideration, and with the needs of our guests with disabilities as our foremost concern, we are modifying the current program so that we will be able to continue to serve those guests for whom the program is intended,” said Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, in a statement.
Under the new program, those with disabilities will not have to wait in line, but will instead be given a return time for each ride based on current wait times. Visitors will then be able to return at the designated time or anytime after, but will only be allowed a return time for one attraction at a time.
In order to obtain the new Disability Access Service Card, guests will have their photo taken and the individual for whom the pass was provided must be among those who board each ride at the designated return time, officials said.
Visitors to Disneyland will be able to reserve return times for attractions at guest relations kiosks located throughout the park. At Walt Disney World, however, return times will be scheduled at attractions.
As in the past, Disney said no doctor’s note or other proof of a person’s disability will be required to obtain a pass, with the company citing legal restrictions around asking for such information.
Since news of the changes first went public, more than 34,000 people signed an online petition calling for Disney to reconsider, arguing that the new approach is unreasonable for at least some with special needs.
Crofton said Disney is sensitive to those concerns and worked to reassure visitors.
“Our commitment to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all our guests has not changed,” she said. “We have long recognized that people may have different needs, and we will continue to work individually with our guests with disabilities to provide assistance that is responsive to their unique circumstances.”
Visitors who need special accommodations should visit guest relations to discuss their individual needs, the company said.
In addition to the new pass, Disney will also be offering a “Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities” to explain how individuals with special needs can best enjoy the parks. It is expected to be available online in mid-October.
The new Disability Access Service Card is for people with disabilities — both visible and invisible — who are unable to wait in lines. The pass is not necessary for those who need accommodations strictly for a wheelchair or scooter.
A separate program is in place for children with life-threatening conditions visiting through wish-granting organizations, Disney said.