Use, not abuse, forced Disney to change its disabled access system
People continue to react to the Walt Disney Company's decision to change the way it accommodates visitors with disabilities in its theme parks. Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel
quoted me in her most recent column, which suggested that increasing wait times at Disney World attractions prompted some visitors to find ways around the wait, with GAC use and abuse becoming one popular way to do that.
Much of the coverage over Disney's decision to replace the Guest Assistance Card [GAC] with a new Disabled Assistance System has focused on reported abuse of the system by people pretending to have a disability to get preferred access to attractions. But conversations with Disney cast members have convinced me that is not the reason Disney made this change.
This isn't going to be easy for some Disney visitors to hear. But let's consider this a little tough love. The reason why Disney is ending the GAC program isn't because it was abused too much by people without disabilities. Disney killed the GAC because it was used too much by people with disabilities.
As we've written before, Disney did not intend to create a system that gave visitors with disabilities no-wait, front-of-the-line access to its attractions. That's simply the way the system evolved, for maximum operational efficiency. It simply was easier for Disney attractions personnel to move parties with a disabled visitor immediately onto a ride via the exit, than to make them wait and block the exit area, or to come back later.
Getting to ride without waiting invited abuse, which is why Disney adopted the GAC program, to make visitors with disabilities get a card from Disney so that individual attraction cast members wouldn't have to bear the responsibility of deciding who deserved special access. That helped put a stop to groups of kids renting a wheelchair to skip lines, but the system eventually grew unsustainable.
As crowds grew at Disney theme parks, people who previously could have endured a five- to 20-minute wait for rides and shows found that they couldn't handle waits of 40-80 minutes or more. Without the GAC, many people with back problems, weight issues, heart conditions, autism, or any of many other issues that make waiting in line difficult or impossible simply might have decided not to visit a Disney theme park. But with the GAC, not only could they visit, but Disney became a preferred entertainment destination. As more and more people used GAC to access rides, standby lines grew even longer, prompting even more people to get a GAC.
These aren't "fakers." They are people with legitimate medical claims. The number of people with medical conditions that could impede their ability to visit a crowded theme park is, unfortunately, astronomical. We're talking about tens of millions of Americans. More than one third of Americans are obese, according to the federal government. A third of adults have high blood pressure. One in six American children have a development disability. Autism prevalence is now at one in 50 kids. (That's nearly 1.5 million children, doing the math on U.S. Census Bureau data.) And let's not forget that Disney attracts millions of visitors from outside the United States, too, adding to the pool of potential visitors with disabilities.
Neither Disney nor any other theme park company can sustain a system that gives all of these people front-of-the-line access. But, fortunately for Disney (though not for the families affected by this change), the law doesn't require that Disney does that. The Americans with Disabilities Act simply requires that institutions create facilities and procedures accessible to persons with disabilities. It does not provide for nor demand preferred access. So that's why we soon will have a new system for disable access at Disney parks, a ride reservation system that will allow people with disabilities to skip non-accessible queues in the parks, but not to skip the waits.
Of course, many people are upset that they're losing what was a wonderful accommodation. For many families dealing with a disability, having front of the line access at Disney provided a welcome relief in an otherwise trying and frustrating experience. Frankly, it stinks to lose that. But Disney can't give preferred access to everyone. At some point, if everyone is "preferred," no one is. And millions of Disney visitors effectively lose their access to the parks again.
Don't think for a moment, though, that the system Disney introduces in 10 days will be its final word on access. For some families, even the new reservation system won't be enough to provide access to the park and its attractions. Don't be surprised it Disney tweaks the system in the months and years ahead to better balance the needs of all its visitors, including those with autism and other conditions for which a reservation system is — and here's an understatement — less than optimal.
But let's also not believe that this change is coming because a small group of greedy people decided to cheat the system. The "disabled" aren't a small subset of Americans. They're more than a hundred million of us. Use, not abuse, made Disney's GAC system unsustainable.
I am fine with Disney changing the system because of 'use, not abuse.' I am not disabled myself, but I would think people with disabilities would want to be treated as equally as non-disabled persons. Disney's new system better accomplishes this. With the GAC, disabled persons were given preferential treatment. Now they will be treated equally, in terms of wait times at least, which is really what the spirit of ADA is about. ADA was not established to give people with disabilities preferential treatment, it was established to give them equal treatment.
Thank you for this.
The new system that is coming in ten days was developed with groups such as autism speaks to make the access as reasonable and fair as possible. Keep in mind the "virtual queue" system that this is implementing has been used by every other major theme park for years. The point of it is to level the playing field for all park guests. It is intended to provide access for guests, not to speed them to the front of every line. A guest with a GAC can experience more than double the attractions in a day than a normal guest on average and this is hoping to eliminate that. Also all but 11 queues at Walt Disney World are currently wheelchair accessible so those guests will not be issued a DAS card so that there will be less in circulation. This virtual queuing system should also drive attendance at less attended attractions such as American Idol while people are waiting for their time to ride the major attractions. The amount of people who currently have GACs who do not need them is absurd and this system is going to help deal with that. This article also points to Obesity as a disability, which it isn't and it shouldn't be a reason to skip a line.
I think this is great. My wife uses a scooter when we go to the parks because she has no cartilage in one knee. Everyday walking she is fine, but she can't walk all day for multiple days in a row nor can she stand in a line for more than ~25 minutes. We were using the old system and felt bad that it would sometimes bump us to the front of the line because we are fine waiting our turn, we just can't do it physically in the line.
Hopefully the safety & wellbeing of ALL patrons is being considered with these new changes. It's easy to write off "Use" as being the real problem, but safety is an often overlooked biggie & will continue to be so.
This is such an excellent, cogent, and concise analysis of this issue. Robert, your coverage on GAC/DAS has been the best around and that is including CNN and other national reporting entities. I really think you should be nominated for an award for this coverage because you are the only one who has really put it all in plain terms and made sense of any of it for a lot of people. THANK YOU!!!
Autism is not the same as a physical disability. We would love to be in a situation where we could be the same as everyone else, but that is just not the reality of our situation. Our son cannot stay in a line. Also, he can only do limited time at the park because of sensory overload issues. The old system was great because we could do as much as he could handle and leave. I really feel betrayed by Disney. We are season pass holders, and I wish that we now were not. Had we been apprised of the situation earlier, I think we might have not bought the passes. We are going to the park in two weeks and I am an anxious wreck thinking of how this is going to work out.
The Haunted Mansion's line is wide enough for wheelchairs to go thru, I saw this on my April 2012 trip. Why not have every line wide enough for wheelchairs, when the chair gets to the entrance then escorted to another entrance for the wheelchair bound. This would make the handicapped & 5/6 friends/family treated like ALL TICKET HOLDERS, and would not be cutting in line. I think this would satisfy the non-disabled. Why should one be discriminated against because he/she is healthy.
Don't you think it's funny this "services" changes with the rise of the (not so) beloved Magicband. It's clear Disney is doing the math and in an effort to heighten the experience for their hotel guests they found out there are only about 3 rides per park per demographic that people like to ride and are on the top of their list. Filling up unpopular rides with Magicband is the easy solution tricking people in that they get no wait entrance in a ride they already didn't had to wait for that long. But adding the endless stream of front in line guests didn't work out so it had to be cut back significantly.
Mimi Webb posted a link in comments above to an article over at a site called "ShowYourHope" that I think is actually a good example of what's NOT helpful in terms of discussing GAC/DAS: it's a very emotional screed from a mother of children with various disabilities. And, of course, she doesn't want anything to change because she enjoyed being able to go on so many more rides in the parks than she's going to be able to do under the new system.
There are many attractions at Disney where wheelchair users must enter through the exit. I just wonder if from now on wheelchair users won't be able to use the exit without the new access card. I never used the old one.
Annette, I agree 100 percent. Disney can't factor in people's emotions. They have to make business decisions and follow the law. The GAC system was becoming bad for business. ADA states equal treatment. With the new system at Disney, you still do not have to wait in lines if you have an autistic child. If you're at Hollywood Studios and you want to do Toy Story Mania but its a 90 minute wait, you get a pass to come back in 90 minutes, meanwhile you can go see the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast show, have fun in Magic of Animation, eat lunch, etc. If you're at Animal Kingdom and theres a 45 minute wait for Everest, there are tons of animals to see around the park while you wait. I'd say that is still a pretty great accomodation on Disney's part.
Next, lets target the tour groups who do not respect the lines. Also Cheerleader Groups, the Brazilians and others who come and stomp all over the grounds of Disney. They cut in line in front of many. We have been cut in front of several time. Last year we reported them and asked a CM who witnessed about a dozen of them doing it at TSM to do something and they did NOTHING. Abuse it not just related to the GAC.
Overlall, I agree with about everything said. I hope Disney does make a few considerations for the extremely special needs groups like Give Kids the World in Florida and the similar visits from groups such as Make A Wish elsewhere. Even with the excess use or abuse that happens, there are times where special really should mean special. Maybe these changes will allow this.
Make a Wish will issue its own lanyards to its families, which Disney will honor with front-of-the-line access. Don't know about Give Kids the World or other organizations. Anyone?
I am also not upset about the change in access for those with disabilities, and I am one who has had to use this program. This change puts Disney on the same page as Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, which have been using this type of access for over a year now. In actuality, it is a much more fair situation.... you don't have to actually wait in the line... you can go somewhere and do something else while waiting for your reserved time to arrive. Very similar to the current FastPass program that has been in use for years. Change is never easy, but when it makes it more fair for everyone across the board, and helps to reduce abuse of the system, it is certainly welcome!
So, do you also discount the issue of truly disabled people (not fake), but who were renting "guests" to go with them, so those guests could be "escorts" and get the quick front-of-the-line access? There was a story a short time ago about people paying big bucks to disabled people for this "service".
I'm glad to hear some people won't be coming back or renewing their passes with the policy change. The result would be less people utilizing the disabled access system. The status quo is unacceptable and the new policy is uncharted territory. The best thing is less people will get preferential treatment, but from what I've read, the new system isn't tied to the Fastpass system. The patron can double dip with DAS and Fastpass.
So are the "Celebrities" going to have to wait in line also? If we are talking about "fairness" lets make it fair all across the board! I know I will probably get flamed, but fair is fair.
Please don't knock the magic band! I really want to use it because my daughter is on the spectrum and cutting down on waiting times is important, but I really prefer to have the same treatment as the rest of the guests in the park. We have never used a GAC, but I did have to do a lot of planning and some trial and error to figure out how to get wait times to a minimum. Things did not always go smoothly, but my daughter is still young so I could control her from harming herself or anyone else in line when she was upset.
I understand why Disney has made this change and understand that the lines for the alternate entrance were getting too long. After having my son with autism ride soarin I knew I wouldn't try that again because we had a lot of issues in the fastpass queue line. As for this leveling the playing field I disagree from what I understand the new system will be similar in concept to Universal and I found this example from autismintheparks.com:
I agree with what Disney are doing but I wonder how this will effect people like my Dad who has Parkinsons? Due to involuntary movements, he sometimes struggles to stand and walk for a long period of time. He doesn't want to use a wheelchair and wants to keep mobile for as long as his body will let him (and I don't blame him either). He desperately wants to be as normal as he can as he loved his theme parks but things like queues and the coaster are making it harder for him. Legoland in Windsor do a virtual quebot system which could be something to consider as the little computer gives you a time to return to the ride based on the queue time. Although Legoland charge a LOT of money for this, this would be a nice idea for Disney to do for the legitimate people who can then wait their queue time but be able to do it sat down near the attraction.
I don't have a problem as such with the GAC if it was supported by proof from a recognised body/medical professional but having just come back from WDW a lot of people just seemed to be elderly or of a larger body size which not exactly being slim myself should not be counted as a disability. Most people would not have a problem with the genuinely disabled using this, but seeing Granny using the scooter to get on rides with 5 grandkids can make you feel annoyed!!
Now Disney World need to revisit their bus transportation to parks/resorts policy of letting motorized scooters higher priority. On a recent trip, there are a line of people waiting 20 minutes for a bus back to a resort. Along comes 4 motorized scooters, and all 4 of them are allowed boarding immediately. Along with the 4 scooters, their party are also allowed to get on too. Now the bus is nearly full, so the people that where waiting 20 minutes, now get standing room only, and some don't even get on. This happens at every bus encounter, 2-3 times a day. Years ago there might be 1 or 2 motorized scooter for the entire week.
This is the first sane article I've read about the changes to Disney's assistance for guests with disabilities - they're entitled to ACCOMMODATIONS, not preferential treatment. Royal treatment, in fact.
I do not know if I buy that Disney is making changes based on use, not abuse. I think Disney would not want to admit there was abuse (even with the filmed evidence).
Robert rightly cited obesity as a condition that could negatively impact a visit to a theme park. As to 126.96.36.199's comment to the effect that obesity is not a disability, I beg to differ. The EEOC has argued in court that obesity is a disability, with some degree of success thus far. I know someone who is massively obese and cannot walk more than a block. (A visit to a theme park would clearly be impossible under the circumstances.) If that isn't a disability, what is?
It is true that this was a wonderful program, especially for a parent with an autistic son. I am not looking to be treated special , it was nice that Disney did this. Unfortunately, I know my sons limitations, and because of that will no longer be able to go to Disney. While I accept their decision, because after all it is a business decision, so I do understand. They too will have to accept the lose of business that will come if families like mine and others do not visit any longer. This is the only place I am able to vacation with my son, where he truly was able to enjoy a portion of what they have to offer. Quite honestly, for the money we pay, and the amount my son is able to tolerate even with the GAC, it definitely will not be worth the money without the card. We recognize this is our issue to deal with that our son is autistic, but we were thankful for a time that there was a company out there that made an effort to help families like mine. Trust me, I would give anything to wait in a line, versus the struggles of everyday life, because of my son autism disorder.
Autism isn't curable. I think the previous poster meant that obesity isn't a disability in terms of something like that. Obesity has a cure; don't eat so much.
My husband happens to me in wheelchair due to an injury while deployed and by no means does he want special treatment because of it. All he asks is that he can have access to the rides that he and his family want to ride. Many of the attractions moving belts slows down and even stops for him to transfer in and out of his wheelchair. However, we have experienced many people annoyed in line that the line basically stops so that he can get on and off.
I have three boys with Autism and removing this GAC is a big mistake. I have no issues telling people what my children have and these workers see us for a few minutes and do not deal with the day to life challenges that Autism brings. Each child has a different sensory issue, each child has a trigger that causes huge meltdowns in which the endanger themselves and the people around them. I feel that Disney needs some sensitivity and through disability training before they proceed. This will effect future vacations because too many people abuse the system. Going to Disney on a whim with children with disabilities does not happen. I wish they come up with a permit process that needs to be completed by a medical provider before the trip that would alert Disney what type of accommodations that each person needs. One fast pass at a time is not going to work they are just asking for trouble.
Previous poster asked if we would want to stuck in a queue next to their teenager having a sensory meltdown. As I understand the new system, they don't have to wait in line with the rest of us, just come back at the time stated. I'm sorry that you feel you are losing out on the one place that catered for you and your child by having immediate access but the new system has been created with consultation with recognised Groups with regards to this and they obviously feel that it is ok. As I posted earlier, I would have no problem with the card being issued with proof of the medical need but I do have a problem with the vast numbers of people( with no medical need) using scooters just because they are unable to walk all day , and obesity should not be classified as a disability!!. With regards to the system I could have got one by going to Guest Services and stating due to my broken ankle (done in April) I was unable to walk/stand all day due to still healing ligament damage (it is, still seeing doc), I realise this is not the same as your issues because of your child and again I'm sorry that you say you will be unable to visit any more, but in the UK you can ask for medical proof to gain this kind of pass or so I understand I could be wrong. I feel that you should have to prove it to get one and I'm sure that anyone who genuinely needs one would have no problem with this even if you had to apply ahead so that the request could be checked out. Sure it would limit spontaneous visits but from what you are saying you have to do things in certain ways for your childs needs so impulse visits are probably not something you can do anyway
We did week long DisneyWorld trips in the Summer 2006 and Spring Break 2007. I have not returned since. We went all out for Disney. Only Disney parks, stayed in Disney hotels and used Disney's transportation everywhere. I did not have a problem with scooters related to rides and attractions; but I was not happy with the Disneyworld bus service related hotel to park or park to park service. We had our 3 yr old with us and waited in line for the shuttle. Scooters and wheel chairs always had first access to the shuttle. Wheel chairs were fine, as they could be folded up and allow more people to enter the shuttle. Scooters took out an entire bench seat and limited the amount of passengers to enter. Those that did had to stand as no seats were available. i recall one evening we had to wait for 5 shuttles to board. And we did, I had to stand and hold our 3 year as she was exhausted after a 14 hour day at the park. In my case... i don't recall any abuse of the Disney system, but the use was excessive and didn't leave the parks very happy.
There is a possibility that Disney may do something like an appointment system for the more disabled such as those with autsim. That has been done in the past for my nephew at other theme parks and it worked quite well. The day was paced out and the appointment times were not to close together and seemed to be based on the average number of rides a guest would manage on that day based on the projected attendance.
I have a physical disability (muscular Dystrophy) I can walk but have no balance so have to use my wheelchair whilst visiting theme parks, I also use these type of passes at a variety of theme parks here in the uk and in other countries disneyland paris being the main 1, to get a pass in paris I have to show proof of my disability eg my parking badge with my photo on and a letter or medical certificate from my doctor. I have no qualms with supplying these when I go I find it strange reading some of the comments that at wdw they don't use the same policy before you even receive a pass. I don't mind waiting in line whilst in my chair as I'm sat down so queue times don't matter, although it isn't the greatest experience being at waist height of people jumping around and smacking you in the head with bags coz their oblivious to you being there. Disneyland paris are also already using giving you a time to come back especially for the bigger rides and we've found these to be so much better than getting the funny looks off people as to why I'm being put to the front of a queue, it's hard enough having a disability anyway and I for 1 just want to be treated like any other person. We have a trip planned for next year to come to WDW before I lose my mobility altogether so looks like some extra planning will be needed.
I appreciate your article, it' s well written and definitely presents a perspective that differs from a lot of others I've read. My only comment is that if Disney's decision is based on use not abuse, then why was the roll-out of the DAS expedited after the exposé from the New York Post in May of this year? Disney has risk management teams up the wazoo, and to think they wouldn't react to the negative press the GAC system received as of late is a little near sighted. As you mention in your article, people with disabilities are not an insignificant portion of Disney's clientele - so ultimately they will have to decide which groups can be sacrificed to achieve their bottom line.
Just wanted to respond to Leanne's comment about WDW not asking for proof of disability. It is actually illegal for Disney- at least in the United States parks- to ask for this, and yes, it's one of the reasons why GACs can be so easily abused.
I am really sad that we will no longer be able to take our 21-year-old son with severe autism to Disney World. The new system simply won't work as my son already has experienced many trips using the guest assistance card fast pass system. Yes, we did probably ride a few more rides by virtue of not having to get a fast pass ticket. But we did have to wait in the line however long it took to get on. It does burn me that celebrities will continue to get preferential treatment. We don't go to the other theme parks because they use this system, which doesn't work for my son. Guess I will start using my American Express card instead of my Disney card because no more need for Disney reward dollars. I know, boo-hoo. One tip if you want to avoid scooters on the bus transportation: stay at the deluxe resorts. Those guests generally are thinner.
As the mother of a child with autism we have had some amazing experiences at Disney. He had his first 3 turn conversation with Snow White after waiting in a quiet place (not the cue) for close to an hour. We didn't line jump... we asked for, and received access to a quiet place to wait for our turn. That worked and allowed my son to be able to go to Disney without line jumping. What's wrong with that? Who does it offend?
Reading these comments, I believe there is one thing people don't seem to understand. The fact that you get to visit Disney at all is a blessing, let alone the people who have gone multiple times a year. I feel for anyone with a child with a disability, but there are children who will never get to visit Disney, ever, let alone get to ride multiple times in a day. This includes poor children, disabled children, abused children and neglected children.
I think that medical documents of proof of disability provided with a diagnosis from a Doctor shoul dbe a requirment for a GAC. Our daughter has a whole litany of medical conditions from a mitochondrial disease. We understand as parent of a medically complex child that we should be responsible to supply medical notes from her doctors as proof for flying with medications or exceptions ot policy. If the scooter people are the concern then they would also need to see their doctors and supply medical condition as well.
"we were thankful for a time that there was a company out there that made an effort to help families like mine" - The company wasn't intentionally "help"ing families like yours out. It was just an unintended consequence of providing equal access to the attractions.
I'm very prominent in the disney community, and I have already heard reports on how people are going to abuse the new system. People in their party are going to get multiple cards, and have multiple return times, so they can go over and over again. They'll just stagger the wait times. You are going to find abuse no matter where you go, but Disney is the worst.
I find it interesting that the autism community seems to be the most vocal. There are adults and children out there with disabilities far worse (both mental and physical). If your autistic child melts down in line you can rest assured that this happens all the time anyways. My children would melt down as well if they are hot, tired and have been standing for 45 minutes in line. A good touring plan should be all most of these families need. We all just need to give Disney a chance to implement the system before everyone starts attacking it.
It's about time the GAC was changed. I'm sick of the "my kid has ADHD and can't wait in lines nonsense." And yes, I do know multiple people who get GACs for ADHD. How does that kid handle the lunch line? The bus line at school? C'mon.
Having a family member who is unable to walk and is wheelchair bound, I think the new system is a workable compromise. I actually would be perfectly happy with just making the front gates wheelchair-accessible for the attractions, even if it did mean a wait in line -- most of the Disney attractions have interesting things happening throughout the waiting process.
It is wrong, and IMO downright disgusting, to equate obesity to any true disability. It is something that is self-inflicted. It is NOT the same as having MS, being in a wheelchair due to a traumatic injury, autism, or the myriad of other conditions about which people are speaking.
The point is SOME people with autism will be fine with the new policy. It won't work for others because the severity of their autism makes waiting and transitioning very difficult. My now adult son with severe autism can wait as long as 20 minutes in the fast-pass line, but he won't be able to wait an hour or more to ride an attraction at a specific time. It is sort of like pushing someone up within a couple of yards of something, then expecting him to get out of the chair and walk the last steps. He is going to have to drag himself if he gets there at all. The sticking point for my son is the getting the time to ride and coming back. I think the old GAC was an appropriate accommodation for him because of the severity of his autism. He doesn't know my name beyond "mommy," but he is expected to understand that now things are different to make it "fair?" My other son has high functioning autism and is disabled enough that he isn't employed or living independently. Now, if he isn't with his brother, he waits just like everyone else because he can. He gets NO accommodation because we know he doesn't need it. It is discriminatory to give the same accommodations to someone with severe autism as someone who has a mobility disability. People with ADD shouldn't get accommodations. If they are young, they need medication and positive behavior reinforcement. That's the great thing about true ADD: stimulants work.
Some obesity is medical. For example my SIL had a hysterectomy and gained 100 lbs bc of the hormone shift and she refused to take estrogen which has been known to cause cancer. Another friend has to take a certain med for an auto immune disorder and she gained a bunch of weight. Its not always bc someone eats themselves that way. Not everyone can help it. Granted, many people can, but not all.
Yeah, I'm calling BS on Janeen Herskovitz's article. I'm pretty sure the author is trolling.
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