Disney to change how they accomodate guests with special needs

Disney Guest Assistance Card, courtesy of Babble

Disney Guest Assistance Card, courtesy of Babble

Disney is reportedly changing the way disabled guests are allowed to access  rides at Disneyland and California Adventure, according to KTLA.

Beginning Oct. 9, visitors to the resort’s two theme parks who present a Disney-issued disability card will no longer be granted immediate, back-door access to rides, a park spokeswoman said, according to the O.C. Register.

The move was a response to the phenomenon of disabled “tour guides” who charge money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, to accompany able-bodied guests and allow them to avoid long lines.  The park said others who don’t have a disability have been able to get an assistance card since no proof of disability is required, according to ABC, which is part of the Disney Company.

Picture courtesy of Mice Chat

Picture courtesy of Mice Chat

Theme Park Insider explained in a recent post how this mess came about:

Before the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, theme parks in the United States were under no federal obligation to accommodate visitors in wheelchairs, or those with other medical disabilities. However, industry practice was to find a way to allow visitors in wheelchairs to get on rides and into shows when they could not go through traditional, narrow serpentine queues.

Typically, the way parks accommodated these visitors was to bring them through the exit. Parks usually design wider exits for attractions, to allow people to get out quickly, so there was plenty of space for a wheelchair to access the ride from that point. But operations staff didn’t want wheelchair parties clogging that space at the exit while they waited their “fair turn” to board, so custom became to load those parties as soon as possible. That allowed wheelchair parties to bypass not just the queues for attractions, but also the waits.

And once word about that got around, the attempts at abusing this practice began.

According to Mice Chat, the rampant fraud inherent in the 10 year old GAC program was brought to an embarrassing light via an expose on The Today Show last May. Only then did the executives on both coasts admit that something finally had to be done, and the existing Guest Assistance Card will cease to exist on October 9th.

A blogger at Babble whose son has Asperger’s Syndrome posted the following information that was sent directly to her from a director at Disney, regarding the new Disney program for guests with special needs:

In our continued efforts to keep you in the loop of Disney experiences that touch families, we would like to share an upcoming change in the Guest Assistance Card. Disney has an unwavering commitment to making our experiences accessible to all Guests. 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.

I was also sent an FAQ that can help answer more of your questions:

How will the new Disney 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 Disney receive assistance in developing the Disability Access Service Card? Yes, Disney is engaging disability groups, and Autism Speaks was instrumental in providing feedback as we developed this new process.

Why is Disney making these changes? Given the increasing volume of requests Disney receives 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.

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