Friday, October 18, 2013

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Disney's New Disability Access Card

This just in from ASLA. I really want to thank them for taking their families to the park, and stepping up to personally test drive Disneylands new Disability Assistance System (DAS) and being objective by making an effort to show all sides when detailing the good, the bad and the ugly of their experience. I  know it's a long post, but it's really worth the read, including Judy's very passionate personal experience at the close of this post.

Wishing that Disney Would Change their Minds on the Disability Access System Card!!!  

The new Disability Access System Card at Disneyland, which Disney is calling the DAS Card, was rolled out last week on October 9.  I went to Disneyland that day to see how it works.  Since it was a Wednesday and raining, the park was not too crowded so I decided to go back on Sunday (joined by Caroline Wilson, Executive Director ASLA ), and it was a very different story.  This email will give you an explanation of the new system as well as the concerns we have and suggestions for improvements.  Please feel free to share and if you can help ASLA to continue to be on the front line of this issue please make a donation. Click on the link below

To summarize at the beginning (and in case you can't get though this whole email):

THE GOOD - The Disney staff were almost always respectful, kind, and helpful.  Some of them even felt bad for the families trying to navigate the new system.  A couple of staff actually thanked me for helping the families work through the changes.  And the new system does work for a lot of people with physical disabilities or mobility concerns.  In fact, I think it will work for most folks who were waiting in line around me.

THE BAD - The card doesn't recognize that there are some individuals who are not going to do well with the new system.  It is not that they can't stand or wait on a physical line, it's that they have a hard time actually waiting.  Our concern is that the long waits will cause many families to deal with meltdowns, aggression, self-injury, property destruction, thus ruining their experience.  Some Disney staff have told parents that they just need to have their child "practice waiting," and organize their days at the park better.  But we believe that this ignores the fact that some individuals cannot learn to wait because of their sensory systems.  And that the intensive planning needed to prevent difficult behaviors make the already stressful lives of parents that much more anxiety-laden.  Disneyland has been a place of happiness and refuge for many families with members who have disabilities.  We fear that the joy will be gone and many families won't be able to return.

THE UGLY - We are worried that some people in the non-disabled community are blaming individuals with disabilities for the problems with the system -- as opposed to the people who abused the system and lied in order to cut their wait times down.  The Autism Society of Los Angeles has a Facebook page that has posts about the new policy.  Astonishingly, more than 35,000 people have viewed the post.  Unfortunately, there have been ignorant people who are hiding behind their computers and writing hateful posts about individuals with disabilities.  I have put some examples at the end of this email.  To me, this change in Disney policy has had the unintended consequence of pointing the finger at the innocent people, the ones with true legitimate needs, and treating us as if we are too entitled and are somehow making life difficult for non-disabled guests.  We will be digging out from this for a long time, I fear.
So here are more specifics...

How the DAS Card Works
Guest Assistance Card which allowed them to go through a Fast Pass line or go through an alternate entrance, often cutting the wait time.  These cards have been discontinued except for the kids with critical illnesses from wish granting organizations.

First, guests must go to the guest relations office (City Hall in Disneyland or Chamber of Commerce in California Adventure).  The Disney employee (called Cast Members) will ask you what the nature of your disability is.  They will not ask you for proof of the disability nor should you need anything.  Based on your disability, they may offer you some level of accommodation.   Those in wheelchairs with only mobility issues will generally not be offered the DAS card.  For families with a member with autism or other developmental disability, you will have to explain why that person needs assistance, such as their inability to wait in lines, what behaviors they might exhibit if they have to wait long periods, etc. 

Waiting at City Hall
Waiting at City Hall - If the Cast Member believes that the individual needs accommodation, they will provide a DAS card.  The individual with the disability must provide their name and get their picture taken.  They or their parent must sign the back of the card as well.  Inside the card are 40 lines with the headings: Attraction, Current Time, Wait Time, and Return Time.  Basically this means that you will select a ride and then they will write down the current wait time and ask you to go to the ride at the assigned time (they generally subtract 10 minutes from the current wait time.)

The Cast Members in Guest Relations were generally starting people off with one ride on your card so that your clock started to tick down on a wait time.  You cannot go on that ride until the return time has passed, but you don't have to be there at that exact time.  You can go anytime after that.  BUT you can't get another ride written on your card until after you've gone on that ride or had it crossed off.  When you go on that ride, you will generally enter via either their FastPass line or through the disabled guest entrance.  Be warned that there is usually a wait after that, sometimes as much as 15-30 minutes.  Your "return time" doesn't mean you go right onto the ride.

Once you've gone on the first ride on your card, you can go to one of three guest relations kiosks located in different parts of the parks.  You may have a short wait at the kiosk of 5-10 minutes.  You will tell them the next ride you want to go on and they will write down your return time.  During the wait times, you can go on other rides by waiting on the regular lines, go to shows, see parades, eat, etc.  Or you can sit by the ride and wait until your return time comes.
Kiosk Locations

In addition to the card, some guests with more serious needs were offered Attraction Readmission Passes (usually one or two), which allows the family to go right into the disabled entrance or Fast Pass line of a certain ride.  (Note that these passes were being handed out very inconsistently with no clear policy or guidance.)

The following website is Disney's official information about the new system and explains it more in detail:

How Did the New System Work on Its First Week?
On the first day October 9th, since the park wasn't busy, I actually saw many families faring OK.  There was some miscommunication from the Cast Members and families were often confused with the complicated system.  I met two families who were overwhelmed at the changes and saw some tears from the moms.  But because the regular lines for the rides were relatively short (from 10-45 minutes), there weren't too many crises.

Then on to Sunday ,October 12th, which was an incredibly busy day at the park, although in my opinion, no busier than many weekends there. I have personally seen it worse in the summer and during the holidays, so I felt that this was a good test of the new system for many families.
The first problem was that City Hall in Disneyland had a very long line just to ask for the DAS card.  I have attached a photo to this email showing how the line snaked around.  The wait on the line was 30-45 minutes in the hot sun with no seats along the way.  There was a separate entrance for those in wheelchairs because City Hall has steps. While the person with the disability must be present when you are at the front of the line, they don't have to wait there the whole time. Unfortunately, many families had only one adult and didn't have the option to walk their kids around while someone else was waiting on line.  And the other concern is that the DAS card only lasts for two weeks, which means that families will have to wait on the long line again to get another card (although they won't have to hear the long explanation again or have their picture taken because their name stays in the system).
 Once a
 On that first Sunday, many families reported that they spent 60-90 minutes just going through the process of getting the DAS card and, by that time, their kid had already had enough.  Some families went on one or two rides and then left. But other guests seemed to do fine with the new program, particularly those adults with physical or mobility challenges that don't impair them in other ways.  They don't have issues with the waiting, it's the standing for long periods that offer them a challenge.  (Although I've heard that for some guests with physical issues who don't have a wheelchair, they are having to stand for much longer times than they used to.  They were told by Cast Members to rent a wheelchair if they have a problem standing.)

The guests that seemed to have the most problems with the new system were the families with children and adults with autism or other developmental disability, particularly those more severely impacted. Many parents seemed to be extremely stressed about how they were going to handle keeping their kids calm during the long waits.  When they were told that they could do other things while waiting, their concern was that once their kid was told they were going on a certain ride, they would get stuck on it and wouldn't do anything else in the meantime.

"Waited an hour in line and then an additional 20 minutes to process our request at City Hall.  From what I understood, we can only get one ride written down at a time on the new DAS card.   This meant that we have to be going back and forth to these special kiosks after each ride.  On the shuttle back to the parking lot, my son looked at me and said, "Why could we only go on 3 rides?  I wanted to go on more.   I wanted to go on Matterhorn."   What do you say to a child who has autism, anxiety, no friends, doesn't play sports, doesn't like school, goes to therapy after school, and looks forward to Sundays because of his #1 favorite thing...... Disneyland?"

"The last straw came when we went to kill time between our next allowed time to ride Space Mountain but my son changes his mind so we walked away.   We waited in the Haunted Mansion line for an hour, until he broke down; he grabbed the card and wiggled out to try and go into the Fast Pass line- of which he was blocked. By the time we recovered, the card was gone....  We were leaving with crying and screaming, both of us at this point.  My son was acting in ways that he has never acted because all of the work we have done to make him behave as a functioning citizen has been changed and he doesn't get it because that is the way it has always been for him here.   I honestly didn't realize how much he needed the guest assistance card until today."

The Fallout
 While we were told that the change in policy was instigated because of widespread (and growing) abuse of the system, it seems that the legitimate disability community is getting most of the heat.  Many families are feeling that they aren't being believed by the Cast Members when they explain their circumstances.  Their lives have been turned upside down because they have depended on Disneyland being one of the only (if not THE only) places where they can go as a family.  And finally, we are hearing firsthand what some insensitive and ignorant folks have thought of our families enjoying the park alongside them all these years.  The comments, while not widespread, have appeared on the ASLA Facebook page (please search for Autism Society of Los Angeles and "LIKE" the page to see everything) as well as on comment pages on the blogs of moms of kids with autism.   Just so that we are aware of some of the attitudes that exist out there, I'm giving you a couple of examples:

 "Because choosing to take your children into what will be a hostile environment for them is wise parenting?  It's not like you go and suddenly find out when you get there that it's busy and there are lines. No, you made a conscious decision to take your children somewhere they would be tortured by the environment. You're all wonderful people. Maybe you should stop feeling like you're entitled as most of the comments here show."

 "Apparently it's discriminatory to stop letting people make everyone else wait longer in lines because your child is 'special.' I'm glad so many of you will never go back. You made the wait times longer for everyone. Now that you have to play fair, like every other theme park in the world, you're throwing a shit fit, like the child you raised. No wonder they can't wait in line, you can't seem to, either."

 "Never have I seen so many entitled whiney parents in one place than I see complaining on this post! Waaaaaah! So now you have to experience the parks as everyone else does. Well, welcome to my world.  You have been living the high life of getting in every fastpass line with minimal wait and experiencing twice to three times the attractions that we who have no disabilities, experience. Now, even though you are still accommodated, you have the nerve to complain because you can't experience the parks the way you did in the past! Those of you that blame Disney need to look at yourselves and see why it is that you think everyone owes you something because your child has a disability. Well, nobody owes you anything. So quit complaining and pull your head out of your ass, so that you can see you have more advantages than those of us who pay just as much, but don't get the accommodations you get and have to deal with long standby lines, snot nosed kids rubbing their boogers on railings, and on top of everything else, I have to listen to you entitled assholes complain about going up through the fastpass lines! Deal with it!!!!"


If anyone wants to get more information about this issue and you are not already on our email list, please send an email  to Judy Mark  

Please also go to Disneyland and report to us how it went for you. We want to hear positive things too because we need to show Disney that we are willing to work with them to get the best changes possible.  

And if you would like to hear more, you can go to the following link to hear a radio show about the changes on Autism Spectrum Radio

We want to leave you with a beautiful post from a mom that was on our Facebook page.  

 "When I took my family to Disney World ten years ago, our experience was indeed magical. We had the disability pass and for the first time ever in our son's life we felt as though someone in the universe was acknowledging that our life is hard. When the cast members saw our pass, they acted as though we were royalty--"Excuse me, pardon me, coming through!" We felt so cared for, so welcome, so special (in a good way), so recognized for our struggles. Everywhere else in life we have to work harder, worry more, strategize more, debrief more, avoid more, and feel isolated more--and we have to PAY more for the privileges of that life.  At Disney, we felt as though someone somewhere was saying, "Here. Let us do this for you. You deserve it." In that way, it was truly like no place on earth. This was ten years ago and that memory still stands alone. Seems to me that this is the kind of magic Disney should want to keep doing.
ASLA is committed to representing the families' concerns to Disney.

In the meantime, ASLA will also be collecting comments, concerns and stories.


  1. We too experienced a magical day at Disneyland many years ago. Everything fell into place for our autistic son and our whole family was able to enjoy the day. The cast members were solicitous, it wasn't too hot and no other guests seemed to resent our "cutting" the line (though I always felt unjustifably guilty). I don't know what's wrong with people who resent families with a disabled member a small amount of ease on occasion. Try walking in our shoes for a few days. Such ignorance and mean-spiritedness! Disney being Disney, I am confident they will find a way to smooth the glitches so their new system will work successfully for families with special needs kids and not cause resentment among guests at large. We can dream, can't we?

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