If your family is anything like mine and you’ve visited the Disney Parks here in Anaheim, you’ve more than likely used the Guest Assistance Card program available at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. This program has been a major lifesaver whenever we’ve taken our special needs son Andrew to DL or DCA. Without it, we wouldn’t have lasted more than an hour before having to turn around and head back home in total defeat.
The card has been a game changer for our family and now, much to my chagrin, I’m sorry to report that it’s on it’s way out. I first learned of this disappointing news today, via Aunesty Janssen over at Temporary Tourist.
“Well Disney has done it, they have come up with they think to be a better system for Guests with disabilities. I say think, because I can spot some immediate issues with it. “
My heart sank as I read the rest of Aunesty’s post. I quickly logged onto MiceAge’s Disneyland Updates to read the news myself and sure enough, there it was:
Guest Assistance Card will cease to exist on October 9th. In its place will be an entirely new program called the Disabled Assistance System (DAS). The DAS will work similarly to the “return passes” issued at popular rides like Star Tours 2.0 and Radiator Springs Racers, where currently a GAC holder gets a Fastpass-style return time hand written on a card based on the current Standby wait time. But with DAS, that concept will be rolled out to several dozen high-wait attractions in Anaheim.
“Instead of going to the actual ride to get a return card, a DAS holder will report to one of several Guest Relations kiosks that will be set up around the parks, with a current plan to have four kiosks in Disneyland (Fantasyland alone gets their own kiosk) and three kiosks in DCA. The DAS holder will present their card and tell the Guest Relations CM which attraction they want to ride, the CM will look at the current wait time via the official Disney Mobile Magic app on an iPad, and will then write out a return time for that attraction and subtract 10 or 15 minutes to make up for the travel time to and from the kiosk.
Only one ride reservation on a DAS card can be made at a time, so if the current wait for Space Mountain is 90 minutes and your return time is written for 75 minutes later, a DAS holder will not get another return time printed on their DAS until the first one has expired. A person with a DAS card could go and do anything else in the park in the meantime; watch a parade, see a show, have lunch, go on low-wait time attractions, pull a regular Fastpass for any other attraction, etc. But only one ride time can be reserved at a time with DAS, unlike the existing GAC which serves as basically an open Fastpass for any Fastpass lane in the park or an access card to go up the exit on any other type of attraction. The DAS changes that quite dramatically.”
In the meantime, let me count the ways that this new system won’t work for our family:
1. Andrew has autism. His particular brand of the diagnosis means he has zero tolerance for waiting. Crowds overwhelm him as do certain sights and sounds. The DAS program does nothing to address these needs. Are we working on waiting with Andrew in therapy? Sure. We’re up to about 10 seconds on a good day. And that’s waiting for something simple, such as watching a favorite video. At home. I cannot fathom Andrew having to wait longer than what’s already necessary with the Guest Assistance Card at either of the Disney parks. And the sensory overload while he’s in these lines or going from kiosk to kiosk. Dear God.
2. Andrew is severely cognitively delayed. When he sees Radiator Springs Racers, all he knows is “OMG! MY FAVORITE RIDE! OMG! OMG! OMG LET’S GO ON MY FAVORITE RIDE, WAIT WHY AREN’T WE GOING ON MY FAVORITE RIDE?!!!!” He does not understand the concept of having to check in at a designated kiosk in order to get a designated time to return to his favorite ride on the planet, only to have to go back to another kiosk for another designated time for either the same or different ride. He certainly can’t comprehend why in the world we’ll have to spend the majority of our day walking between a bunch of stupid koisks just to get on a damn ride (can you see how well I’m taking this?).
3. Going to Disneyland is expensive. Over the years we’ve invested in the annual passes because we could justify them, knowing we were getting our money’s worth. The Guest Assistance Card made our visits possible. It was an accommodation we never took for granted and in exchange, we spent our hard-earned money at the parks. The Guest Assistant Card almost guaranteed that meltdowns would be minimal and rarely did we leave the park in turmoil. It was efficient and it made the rides accessible for our child in a way the Disabled Assistance Pass will not. 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. Which means we just won’t be going to Disneyland anymore. We could barely afford it before but now it won’t even be worth the scrimping and saving we have to do to walk through those entrance gates.
Listen, I’m not refuting that there are a lot of problems with the current system. I was enraged back in May when major media outlets broke the story of wealthy moms hiring disabled guides in order to benefit from the “perks” of the Guest Assistance Pass. Overhaul of the current program is necessary if such blatant and rampant fraud is ongoing. But I’m getting really tired of these rotten apples ruining it for the rest of us, especially when it comes to something as important as accessibility.
Maybe the Disabled Assistance Pass will benefit some people, and for them, I say hooray. But for families like mine, where the special needs of our loved ones are varied and require specific accommodations, this new system will be nothing short of a nightmare.
And that’s going to leave a whole lot of folks – myself included – pretty damn grumpy with The Happiest Place on Earth.
Interview with CBS Los Angeles:
UPDATE: There’s a gazillion conflicting reports on the internet so I want to go on record and say this: This post was written as a reaction and response to information I received from two different sources, both of which I link to in the beginning of this post. I WANT to be wrong. My family LOVES Disneyland. The reason I’m upset at these proposed changes is because if they are in fact going to be implemented, my family will no longer be able to enjoy the Disney parks like we have been over the years. If this turns out to be a crazy rumor, or if there is a new policy put in place that takes families like mine into consideration, I’ll be more than happy to eat crow. The end.
UPDATE: Aunesty Janssen of the Temporary Tourist, received an official statement from Disney today and she’s posted it on her site. Head over to see what Kathleen Prihoda, Manager for External Communications for Walt Disney World Resort told her. It’s at the bottom of her post.