Walt Disney World's new access policies take effect

May 20, 2024, 2:34 PM · Disney's new disability access procedures officially went into effect today at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Under Disney's new procedures, the company is contracting with a third party [Inspire Health Alliance] to try to provide more customized accommodations to guests' specific disability needs. But the TL;DR here is that Disney is trying to hand out fewer free passes to its Lightning Lanes.

Disney's DAS [Disability Access Service] pass system uses Lightning Lanes as alternate attraction entrances for people who cannot wait in regular standby queues. But the DAS pass system was not intended to provide users with a time advantage. The wait until their Lightning Lane return time for a DAS user was supposed to be about the same as the regular standby queue wait time.

However, under the old procedures, Disney allowed parties registering in advance for accommodation to make two DAS Advance selections per day. That essentially functioned as free Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane entitlements, creating a huge incentive for people to abuse the system by using any potential excuse for a disability to get the DAS pass.

Throw in U.S. federal law that requires businesses to provide accommodation while prohibiting them from demanding medical verification of the need for that accommodation, and Disney's Lightning Lanes became flooded with guests gaming the system. That created longer waits for guests in standby queues, for guests who paid for Lightning Lane access, and - worst of all - for people with actual, profound medical need to avoid the standby queues.

Disney's new system is intended to suggest alternate accommodations for people who need relief but whose disability does not prevent them from waiting - somewhere, somehow - before getting into a desired ride or show. Will it work? Having worked in or reported on this industry for more than three decades, I have yet to see a new operations policy that worked flawlessly as intended on Day One. Or even in Week One. People have uncanny ability to come forward with needs that even the most thorough plans did not anticipate.

The more time you spend reading or watching Disney-related content online, the more likely you are to encounter a great deal of criticism about Disney's new accessibility system. (The new policies will go into effect June 18 at the Disneyland Resort in California.) Some of that fear, uncertainty and doubt are sparked by influencers who were cheating the system before and don't want to lose that advantage now. But much of the criticism now also is being amplified by people with real needs who have real concerns about Disney's continued ability and commitment to meet those needs.

The greatest obstacle that many people living with disabilities face is the lack of an advocate with the ability to articulate the effects and challenges of their disabilities. Without that advocacy, needs too often get ignored as caregivers and providers assume that their provided accommodations are sufficient.

Disney's new system creates the potential for more appropriate, customized accommodations, but it does that at the expense of making the challenge of getting those accommodations even more difficult for guests who lack the advocates they need - even more now - to communicate effectively with Disney.

Simply getting rid of the two DAS Advance selections for most DAS pass users should eliminate much of the incentive to abuse the system. Beyond that, I suspect that guests will need to stay tuned for updates and clarification as Disney moves forward with its new system.

If you would like to learn more about Disney's new accommodation procedures, including links to applying for it, please see our previous post: Disneyland, Walt Disney World to change disability access plans.

And to keep up to date with more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.

Replies (3)

May 20, 2024 at 10:23 PM

Really great, thoughtful piece, Robert.

May 21, 2024 at 8:32 AM

I do think abuse of the old DAS system was rampant, most likely because it was far too easy to take advantage of and was exceptionally beneficial to those who were approved for the service. However, I don't think this change is about necessarily trying to cut back its use or even making the system less advantageous. To me, this shift is more about passing the buck. While it sounds like the service will still be spearheaded by Disney Cast Members, it incorporates a lot more 3rd party labor and services, which helps Disney defer some of the cost/responsibility for managing the system. I think what happened is that Disney parks are so popular (partially because DAS was such a convenient and beneficial service for guests with special needs), that Disney was pretty much throwing up their hands and opening the flood gates on allowing guests to use DAS. That was fine when using FP/FP+ was free and included in everyone's admission, but now that Disney is charging guests for Genie+ and ILL, there is a clear financial benefit for guests who are able to qualify for DAS.

That is where a 3rd party comes into the equation where they can lend their expertise and decision making into the process in an attempt to separate Disney from the responsibility of determining who qualifies for DAS. In reality, Disney should have always been establishing DAS return times based on real-time standby waits, but it just goes to show how inept and unwieldy their queue management system is as a whole.

I certainly hope this new system curtails the abuse and is fair to EVERYONE. Ultimately when there is a financial advantage to qualifying for DAS, guests are going to do whatever possible to get one, so the new gateway/standards for qualifying and making wait times more realistic/equitable with standby, should help every park guest. Also, having DAS-seeking guests completing their enrollment prior to arrival will be a massive weight off the shoulders of in-park CMs at guest services, and allows them to be available to assist guests with real-time in-park issues.

May 21, 2024 at 4:45 PM

I work in the welfare rights/disability benefits field (in the UK). You're never going to escape accusations of cheating or abuse of the system, and that doesn't mean you shouldn't work to reduce it... But that door swings both ways - Disability systems are frequently not built with round holes, and disabled people aren't square pegs - no matter what you do you can't win, either people who shouldn't get it, get it; or people who should, wont - its a game you can't win, you can only hope to lose less badly.

The cynic in me says that this is why they're using an outsource partner, so they can blame any failures on them. That might be tainted from my experience of these third parties who will tell people who can't leave the house (and sometimes the bed) they're perfectly fine and should go to work - even when they've demonstrated they've tried working from home and can't.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive