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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Disney Rolls Out Disability Access Service Card

In response to the abuses of the Guest Assistance Card, Disney has changed its policy on accommodation for disabled people who can't stand in ride lines at the Disney theme parks in Florida and California. The new Disability Access Service Card is getting, at best, mixed reviews.

The Guest Assistance Card allowed visitors who couldn't stand in long ride lines because of a disability, and their guests, to skip most or all of the line. The program was being abused - a business had even sprung up in Florida where families could hire a disabled person for a day to travel with them through the park so that they could take advantage of the Guest Assistance Card. Read more

Disabled people still don't have to wait in line with the Disability Access Service Card. They go to an attraction, and are given a time to return based on current wait times.  They can only have one time reserved to return to any given attraction at a time. So it's like they are waiting in line, they just don't have to physically be in line. They don't lose their time if they return late;  they can return any time after. The disabled party does have to be with the group in order for anyone in the group to on the ride.

I have to give Disney credit. I think that the Disability Access Service Card is a reasonable attempt to make sure that everyone gets treated fairly in their parks and that it will likely cut down on the sort of fraud that was becoming especially problematic. But is it a step toward treating everyone equally? I'm not so sure, and neither are many parents. Read the many comments on this article.

The Disability Access Service Card and "Fair"

I know that *far* from everyone on society agrees with me on this, but I've come to view people being treated fairly as everyone having the same access to the things that they need that will allow them to succeed (however a person defines "success"). And I think that it's a reasonable assumption that a successful day at Disney world for any child is one in which the stress level is reasonably low and the fun level is high.

Of course, Disney can't realistically *promise* a low-stress, fun-filled day to anyone, but obviously both the Guest Assistance Card and the Disability Access Service Card were recognition that they need to provide accommodations to disabled people so that they have as close to that sort of day as possible. But parents of autistic children in particular are saying that the Disability Access Service Card doesn't make a day low-stress or high-fun. For autistic children who can't handle the neurological overload involved with "We can't go back to the ride until 2 pm" any better than they can handle the sensory overload of standing in line, parents say that it's potentially a very, very long day of managing behaviours that are stressful to the child, family, and to those around them for the chance to get on as few as 3 - 5 rides.

While I haven't heard much about the experience of  families with children with physical disabilities or families with a member, adult or child, that has a condition involving high levels of pain or fatigue with the Disability Access Service Card, I can see how it could be of little use to these families as well. If, 90% of the way through a 2 hr waiting period for a ride, a family member's pain becomes too much to bear and they have to leave the park to go back to the hotel to rest for the rest of the day, the rest of the family can't go on the ride at their assigned time. They've lost the the almost two hours that they "waited" in line - plus the time that they'll have to wait in line now, if it's ride on which they really want to go.

Plus, having scheduled ride times somewhat eliminates the spontaneity that families without disabled members get to enjoy during a day at Disney. A family without the Disability Access Service Card can decide after waiting a bit in line, "This isn't worth it," or "We'll come back later", step out of line, and line up somewhere else without a lot of fuss. Although the procedure by which families using the Disability Access Service Card isn't oulined in Disney's literature, it's presumably a bit more complicated and involves a trip back to ride in question, which could add stress on a disabled individual for which the day is already going to be physically/emotionally straining.

Should Disabled People Be at Disney if They Can't Handle The Stress?

A lot of people will say that they shouldn't. I think that's easy for people to say, and I don't agree.

It's not like autistic people choose to be easily overwhelmed, or that people choose to be in a wheelchairs or live with chronic pain or fatigue, or to have mental conditions that cause moments of anxiety or fear at a place like Disney.

When we start saying, "These people should stay away because of this," where do we draw the line?

Kids are kids and Disney is a marketing genius. Disabled or not, most kids at some point want to visit a Disney theme park. I'm a disabled adult with no particular interest in going to Disney World again, but if I got the chance to go with my niece Gillian and her family, I would in a heartbeat just to see Gillian enjoy it. I'd be eligible for Disability Access Service Card, but I could probably get along without it, and I think I would and risk being exhausted the next day...because it sounds like it would hold me back more than help me, honestly.

But if I was still at a point in my recovery where I knew that a day at a Disney theme park was going to be physically very stressful, but I wanted to go anyway, to enjoy the experience with my niece...would it be wrong for me to go?

The Disability Access Pass: Some Things to Consider

If Disney stays with the policies of the Disability Access Service Card, perhaps they can consider some supports in the park, perhaps accessible only to people with the Disability Access Service Card, that will make things "more fair", to augment this focus on everyone getting treated "the same":

  • Quiet areas around the park where a family member can take an autistic child who has become overwhelmed and who needs some time to calm down while they wait for a ride.

  • A few areas where a person who isn't necessarily in a medical emergency, but just in pain or who needs to rest can nap in a chair or bed until they feel ready to return to  the park (as opposed to having to leave the park to rest)

  • Flexibility on the rule that says that the disabled person must be present to get on a ride at the scheduled time, for cases when the person legitimately cannot return to the ride.

Any other ideas?


  1. Or what about pre-scheduling? Perhaps with a hotel concierge?

  2. I have no issue with the all the concerns you raise and agree with your proposed accommodations for the disabled to allow for a maximally enjoyable experience. One question you raise leave me in a quandary...."Should disabled people be at disney if they can't handle the stress?"
    Well, ah, let me answer indirectly for a direct answer maybe not quite politically appropriate. I do not take my so to movies where there is loud action and sudden increases in volume because he arches out of his chair and re-positioning him every ten minutes would distract others from an experience they paid for. Not his fault, my decision. My wife and I get to go out a few times a month to a good restaurant as respite from our care for Adam, a good, expensive, elegant restaurant...should I have to tolerate a screaming baby when I'm laying our a hundred bucks plus for meal...no way. My 27 year old son is stuck at 12 years old and laughs hysterically at very obese people in tight clothes where you can see preponderance of rolls of adipose tissue. His fault, no; appropriate no....so I keep him away from those situations.
    Very little is about our right to participate, much is about the right of others to fully enjoy and very experience. I'm a feelin' like an old curmudgeon. But there is a time and place for everything under the heavens ....

  3. I am simply amazed that people pay to access this insanity. Clearly it is a problem for EVERYONE - AB, NT - as well as extra-ordinary people. It's almost like the operators have arranged things to avoid reasonable accommodation for any- and every-one.

  4. Displaced Aussie1 December 2013 at 18:46

    I think you raise really valid points - I also think kudos to them for trying. I went through Disneyland with my then 6 year old son and a girlfriend in a wheelchair back in 2000 and we had a great day getting to the head of the queue all the time... The wheelchair was a concrete visible sign of her need to be given some special assistance... In those days I didn't have a chronic pain condition as I do now (I did have some early signs but I still thought they were in normal ranges) there were no "access cards" etc you just went to the front of the queue... I think for people, such as myself, who have invisible conditions a card like this is terrific an I would rather have an appointment than have a hundred people thinking I wasn't really disabled when I went past them. At my university the Disability Services group has a "chill out room" where people can take a break and have a rest during the day. Unfortunately it was never available on the weekends when I was at my seminars so I never saw it but I think it is a great idea. I think it would be wonderful if such facilities were in every location where lots of people go... Disney, big malls, major events etc. It certainly would make me more willing to attend those kinds of places and things! Great blog - cheers Sarah and this when you were banging out a novel too!!!