Disneyland revamps its disabled access passes

Abuse of a good system that helped lots of people led to the change, but the theme park's new program is missing a key, simple measure.

By Jonathan Berr Sep 20, 2013 2:09PM
File photo of visitors walking on Main Street at Walt Disney World on June 5, 2012, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (© John Raoux/AP)When my family and I went to Walt Disney (DIS) World earlier this summer, I got a Guest Accommodations Card (GAC) because of my Parkinson's disease, which let us avoid many of theme park's long lines. I probably won't get this help on my next visit to the "Happiest Place on Earth" -- whenever that may be --  because people were abusing the system.

The GAC came into focus earlier this year after media outlets such as the New York Post reported that wealthy park visitors were hiring tour guides who qualified for these passes so that they could move ahead of other patrons in line. Getting a GAC isn't easy. Disney doesn't publicize them much, and people have to apply for them in person at the park.

Strangely, though, Disney World didn't require me to submit any sort of proof of my medical condition. I was able to use my GAC without incident.

According, to MiceAge, a website that tracks Disney, the company is discontinuing the GAC as of Oct. 9 at Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure and replacing it with what the company calls the Disabled Assistance System (DAS). Though the MiceAge story doesn't mention Disney World, it seems likely that the policy will apply there as well.

Unlike the GAC, which can be used throughout the park, only one ride at a time can be reserved using the DAS. Disney may be solving one problem but creating many others.

Children with autism, some of whom can't wait for anything, may be in tough spot because many of them find the park overwhelming. As Jo Ashline, the mother of a son who is on the autism spectrum, wrote on the Special Needs Orange County site: "The Guest Assistant Card almost guaranteed that meltdowns would be minimal and rarely did we leave the park in turmoil. ... I'm not trying to #$%& on anyone's parade here, but watching the parades may be the only thing we'll be able to do when this thing is implemented."

As a parent of a child with a mild form of autism, I sympathize with Ashline. The meltdowns she refers to can be volcanic in their fury. For Parkinson's sufferers, waiting in the hot sun isn't easy, either. I certainly was glad I had the GAC.

The new system probably would have made my stay at the park far less enjoyable. A better approach would be for Disney to keep the GAC but require a doctor's note from applicants, something that people with legitimate issues wouldn't mind doing. A company spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment on this story.

Disney seems to be pushing a one-size-fits-all approach to a situation that is often quite complicated. I hope the company will reconsider this move.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr and at jonathanberr.com.

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Sep 21, 2013 5:53AM
Disabled or not, I have better things to do with my time then wait an hour plus per 5 minute ride. 

Disney needs more rides to accommodate the crowds they have, to raise prices so fewer people can afford it, or to limit the number of people in the park.  Until they do that, I'll take my kids somewhere where they'll have fun and not spend hours standing in line. 

Sep 22, 2013 10:16PM
My son would gladly trade his disabilities from a stroke for your 90 minute wait, you jackass
Sep 22, 2013 7:45AM

what disney shoulda done was simply barred any outside tour guides who were "using" their disability to work the system. just because someone is confined to a wheelchair doesn't mean they can't be a shifty scumbag.


regards, jo.  

Sep 21, 2013 8:00AM
The being handicapped, does not mean being better than everyone else, no one enjoys standing on long lines in the sun.  The handicapped are quick to point out that they want to be treated like everyone else and be able to have "equal" access.   This has cost companies, stockholders, customers and taxpayers billions of dollars to accommodate them.  Well, you got your "equal" access, now enjoy it like everyone else. 
Sep 20, 2013 10:35PM

I can understand that people with special needs get all the goodies in public education. Smaller class sizes, more one-on-one, more computers per student ratio, etc. It also seems reasonable to me that they should get special parking privileges and ramps to make mobility easier. At what point though do the rest of us need to subsidize and cater to the special needs populations so they can enjoy Disney World rides. They are a company that has interest in making money, and believe it or not, the greatest good for the greatest amount of people is a much better economic policy than pandering and caving to the few. Someone had mentioned that Disney should provide a staff member to assist people around- okay, as long as they volunteer and drive up the prices of everyone else's ticket. Should they get cut in front of the line multitudes of times while everyone else who paid for the same ticket has to wait- no. Society, and especially private companies, owe you equal opportunity, not extra opportunity.

Sep 20, 2013 6:02PM
I didn't see any details of the workings of the pass or why they might be creating another problem here.  To me, it seems like it would be equitable for all if people with the disabled "guest access pass" could avoid waiting in lines but would still have to wait their turn just like anyone else.  Which means, while you are registered for one ride, you can't go and register for other rides.  The park should set aside some nice quiet shady areas the disabled people can wait while awaiting their scheduled time...that or they can wander the park, find a play area, or just have something to eat or browse in the numerous gift shops. 

Sep 20, 2013 6:42PM

Just because you can't make it down or up the stairs or walk the 2 miles in a zigzag line to get on a ride......doesn't mean you should get to cut in front of other paying customers who wait the full 90 minutes for a ride.  There is no reason that a person who needs the alternative entrance can't wait with a family member or friend at the alternative entrance, while everyone else in the group goes through the regular line and when those folks get to the front...the person needing the alternative entrance; and their "waiting buddy", joins them on the ride.


And now the peanut gallery will try to "justify" why THAT method isn't "fair"......

Sep 22, 2013 1:02AM
""""""Children with autism, some of whom can't wait for anything, may be in tough spot because many of them find the park overwhelming."""""""

50 years ago, the kids did fine. 
Sep 21, 2013 11:39AM
Thank you, Disney!!!  It always amazes me when the "disabled" manage to get through two or three rides while I am still stuck in line for the first. 
Sep 23, 2013 4:01PM

If autistic children are not going to enjoy Disney because they do not or cannot wait in the lines or find the crowds overwhelming, take them someplace they will enjoy!  Why would you want to spend money to make them miserable.  There is no requirement that everyone go to a Disney park.  Child Protective Services will not pay a call on you if they find out you have not taken your kids to Disney.


PS:  I am the mom of an autistic daughter.


A doctor's note? Then the wealthy will just get doctor's notes. A doctor's note can get you a handicap parking pass too for people who obviously don't need them.


I know of several people bragging about taking their wheelchair bound grandmother just so they can get at the front of the line. This is disgusting. This was not Walt's dream.


This is not a must have. If you cannot stand the lines, do not come to the park.


Like some have written, you have equal access, not special privilages. This is just like modern America, someone does something nice and now it's expected, and people will sue you if you don't.

Unfortunately, despite what most of the people posting here might think, the disabled will likely nver be treated 'like everyone else'.  Geting in front of the line at a park is pretty small compensation in the grand scheme of things.  If the handicapped were treated like everyone else, the Americans With Disabilities Act would be completely unnecessary. 
Sep 22, 2013 6:02PM
The issue here is not so much the unfair life of the disabled as it is the shady disabled people advertising themselves on craigslist to be your paid tour guide to get you on the rides quicker. It's not so much the wealthy abusing the system as it is these disabled folks abusing it. And trust me you don't necessarily need to be wealthy to afford these "tour guides," just a paid ticket for them will sometimes do the trick, as they are enjoying a free day at the park! Although these day you practically need to be wealthy to get a ticket! 
Sep 24, 2013 12:06PM
I am disgusted at the comments of people saying that it is unfair that those with disabilities should get a special privilege.  It is people like you, giving dirty looks to the "cutters" that are responsible for this situation.  Do disabled people give you dirty looks when they see you walking without an assistive device?  Oh yeah, life isn't fair that an immobile 6 year old that spends all of their free time doing physical therapy etc. cuts your able bodied child in line, making you wait approximately 2 minutes longer.  Maybe in your next life, you can switch places.  Maybe you'll get lucky and someone will roll over your foot with their wheelchair while in line with the neglected general public under this new system.  Then you too will get to benefit from it when you are lucky enough to have crutches!
Sep 23, 2013 9:14PM
As a disabled person with "invisible" disability I think it is a good change. Most of the time I skip the disabled special treatment and cause myself great pain by standing in line just because I don't want to distress those waiting in line and embarrassing for me. The new method looks more discrete.
Sep 23, 2013 7:37AM
Any system that permits one individual to be treated better than another individual will be abused because there are no penalties like being thrown out for abusing or cheating the system.  If a host or hostess is assigned to a special needs family with VIP access for a defined period such as three hours, that family will see everything in three hours that a regular family sees in a whole day.  I believe that would be fair and I would accept this type of system.  At some point in our lives, each of us will have an issue that would qualify for special treatment, but you don't get the right to beat the system continuously. 
Sep 21, 2013 9:05PM

The worst for the disabled is Hersey Park

Oct 8, 2013 4:31PM
Disney doesn't need the handicapped around the park moving to the front of the line ...they'd rather just make these clients "disappear" and have used the new DAS as a slap in the face saying, "stay home" ...don't you think?
Oct 7, 2013 11:01PM
As the mother of two children with Autism and one with Down Syndrome I would not take my two Autistic children to Disney. But, my daughter not only has Down Syndrome but diabetes type one, Epilepsy and a Thyroid disorder. She wants to go but with the new changes being considered by Disney most probably won't as I can't wait in line with her and monitor blood sugars:(  Why do some have to spoil it for all !
Sep 20, 2013 3:58PM

I tried to shout it louder, but it won't let me use a bigger font.  Seriously, this is one of your better pieces.  Maybe it's because it's written in 1st person, maybe it's because it's more of a human interest story.  Regardless, we know you get paid to write financial articles, but please find a way to get paid to write more stuff like this!!

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