Disney is overhauling its disability access policies after seeing an explosion in abuse of a program meant to accommodate visitors with autism and other developmental disabilities.

The company said that it will implement new procedures soon at both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort to ensure that people with disabilities are receiving the accommodations most appropriate for their needs.

The update comes as Disney said that its Disability Access Service, or DAS, program has become the most widely-requested service at its parks, with usage tripling in the past five years alone.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Disability Access Service allows visitors with disabilities to request return times for one attraction at a time in order to avoid physically waiting in line. Disney says that the program, which was introduced in 2013 to curb misuse of its previous system, is intended for those who “due to a developmental disability like autism or similar, are unable to wait in a conventional queue for an extended period of time.”

However, the company now says that use of the Disability Access Service far exceeds the population for which it was intended meaning that people who legitimately need accommodations are having to wait longer and officials are laying out new steps to rein things in.

Disney is adding cast members and investing in specialized training to help people with disabilities understand and identify accommodations based on their needs. In addition, the company is working with Inspire Health Alliance which will provide certified health professionals trained in psychology or behavioral health to help Disney cast members determine if individuals qualify for the Disability Access Service program. Eligibility will be based on personalized conversations centered on questions about an individual’s needs.

Guests who do not qualify for the Disability Access Service program may be advised to use other accommodations like the line-return option for those who need to visit the restroom frequently or wheelchair access and location return times for individuals using mobility devices, Disney said.

To seek approval for the Disability Access Service program under the updated approach, visitors are encouraged to use Disney’s virtual video chat system to speak with a member of the accessibility team about their needs prior to arriving at Disneyland or Disney World. Alternatively, guests can have this conversation in person at Disneyland by visiting the designated windows at the esplanade between the main entrances. At Disney World, guests can do a virtual chat on-site.

Disney is extending the length of time that enrollment in the Disability Access Service program is valid for from 60 to 120 days. At the same time, the program will be limited to the immediate family of the person who qualifies for the Disability Access Service or up to four people.

“If it is determined that any of the statements a guest made in the process of obtaining DAS are not true, the guest will be permanently barred from entering the Walt Disney World Resort and the Disneyland Resort, and any previously purchased Annual Passes, Magic Key passes, tickets and other park products and services will be forfeited and not refunded,” Disney says on its website.

The new policies will take effect May 20 at Disney World and June 18 at Disneyland.

Disney is not the only theme park company to make changes to its disability access policies in recent times.

Last year, Universal Studios started requiring visitors seeking disability accommodations to apply for an Individual Accessibility Card prior to visiting its parks in Florida and California. To receive the card, which is issued by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, or IBCCES, people with disabilities must submit a photograph and documentation from a medical provider, government entity or education professional detailing the type of accommodations requested.

Disney officials said they considered partnering with several third parties for its access card, but decided against those options because many of them required visitors to plan in advance and provide records or documentation.

“Disney is dedicated to providing a great experience for all guests, including those with disabilities, which is why we are so committed to delivering a wide range of innovative support services aimed at helping our guests with disabilities have a wonderful time when visiting our theme parks,” a Disney spokesperson said.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.