It’s no secret that one of the things that keeps bringing my family to Disney World time after time is the thought and care that they give to how they treat their guests. Since in my party we have two guests with special needs (food allergies and ASD), that care becomes even more important. It means that I can go on a vacation and not have to worry about things that other guests might take for granted. Will my daughter get sick from her meals? Will my son have a complete meltdown because he is terrified of the “stretch room” on The Haunted Mansion? With the assistance of the cast members at Disney Parks, I’ve been able to relax and enjoy myself and know that my family will be taken care of.
One of the things that has helped us in the past was Disney Parks’ Guest Assistance Card (GAC). I found out about the card when I asked the cast member at Haunted Mansion about the availability of a baby swap on the ride. She looked at me a little strangely and explained that everyone could ride the ride so no, they didn’t offer it. I sighed, and explained that my son freaked out when we took him in the stretch room and I didn’t want to go through that again, even though he loved the ride in the end. She told me that we could ask to skip the stretch room and get on through the handicapped entrance which was located next to the exit. She then proceeded to politely ask me if we had any “issues” – I volunteered that my son had special needs and was quite sensory sensitive. That was all she needed to take me through the ins and outs of the GAC. I walked over to City Hall as she explained and obtained one. We didn’t use it that much as the lines weren’t horrible, but we did find ourselves needing it on Peter Pan’s Flight, as for some reason I cannot explain, the Fast Pass line freaks him out, but he can get on through the exit.
Never did we use it as a “cut the line pass”. In fact, we felt pretty darn guilty in some cases, like when we got on Dumbo after 5 minutes when other people were waiting for 30 minutes. Believe me, I’d rather wait 30 hours for Dumbo and have a kid who wasn’t affected. We were never happy about the reason we had the card, but we were always so very grateful.
Earlier this year, a story broke, a rumor really, of a disabled guide who hired him or herself out to “rich Manhattan moms” so they could take advantage of the GAC and cut the lines with their families on spring break. No one ever identified the guide, nor did any “moms” step up. But unfortunately the story was out there and people started saying that the GAC was the subject of a huge amount of abuse and Disney was going to evaluate the program in the long term.
This week, I started hearing from fellow special needs parents about the phasing out of the GAC program. Some people were alarmed, and rightly so – the GAC allowed them to have the experience that they never thought possible with their special needs kids. The thought of having to wait on long lines with kids who simply don’t have the tolerance or coping mechanisms to do so is pretty frightening. I remember a trip where we waited on a line and found him kicking and biting other kids, which is not a usual behavior for him! What do you do if that has to be your norm.
I received the following from one of my Disney contacts and wanted to share it here. Until I get there and experience it for myself, I cannot say that this will or will not work for my family. What I do know is that when I have reached out to Disney cast members for accommodations for my kids, I’ve always found them helpful and supportive of our needs. I hope that the Disability Access Service Card continues to provide that experience to families. I’m certainly willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they will continue to reach out to members of the special needs community to hear our feedback about how the new DASC works for us.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How will the new 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 you ask for feedback in developing the Disability Access Service Card?
We are engaging disability groups, and Autism Speaks was instrumental in providing feedback as we developed this new process.
Why are you doing this?
Given the increasing volume of requests we receive 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.