Disney's new Disability Access Service Card (DASC): yay or nay?

I do not have a child or other family member requiring special needs assistance, but like everyone I was outraged when the story of disabled tour guides for hire came out last May. I was disappointed that there were people who would "pimp" out their disability, and even more disgusted that there were rich people who think themselves so above the rest of the world that they would pay disabled people to help them skip the lines.

From a public relations perspective and from an ethical perspective I'm not surprised that Disney would have to take some kind of action to eliminate, or at least minimize, the abuse.  Last week I heard rumors about a new Disability Access card that would replace the current Guest Assistance card, and this Saturday I received information about the new system straight from Disney.

If you don't want to read through the whole thing, here's my takeaway, in a nutshell:  Previously, guests unable to wait in a queue were given Guest Assistance Cards that allowed them to enter an attraction from the exit side -- thereby eliminating all the queues and all the wait.  The new system requires eligible guests to get a FastPass style card with a return time -- which eliminates the queues, but not the wait.

In our continued efforts to keep you in the loop of Disney experiences that touch families, we would like to share an upcoming change in the Guest Assistance Card. Disney has an unwavering commitment to making our experiences accessible to all Guests. After careful consideration, we will be replacing the Guest Assistance Card with the new Disability Access Service Card on Oct. 9 to create a more consistent experience for all our Guests while providing accommodations for Guests with disabilities. Until Oct. 9, we will continue to use Guest Assistance Cards. We look forward to sharing more information about the Disability Access Service Card as we get closer to implementation.

Frequently Asked Questions:
How will the new Disney program work?
The Disability Access Service Card will offer Guests a return time for an attraction based on the current wait time. Guest Assistance Cards will continue to be in effect until Oct. 9. We look forward to sharing more information as we get closer to implementation.

Did Disney receive assistance in developing the Disability Access Service Card?
Yes, Disney is engaging disability groups, and Autism Speaks was instrumental in providing feedback as we developed this new process.

Why is Disney making these changes?
Given the increasing volume of requests Disney receives for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process beginning Oct. 9 so that it creates a more consistent experience for all our Guests while providing accommodations for Guests with disabilities.

Who will be eligible for a Disability Access Service Card?
Our goal is to accommodate Guests who aren't able to wait in a conventional queue environment due to a disability (including non-apparent disabilities).

Will Guests on wish trips also use Disability Access Service Cards?
No. Guests who are visiting through wish-granting organizations will have access through a separate program.

What should Guests do if they have concerns?
Guests should contact Guest Relations to discuss their assistance needs.

There has already been a huge buzz accompanying the news.   Some parents of special needs kids are proclaiming the end of Disney magic as they know it. Many are angry that the abuses of a few have led to the elimination of a perk that helps families with special needs members enjoy a day at the Disney Parks.   Many are saying, "It's about time", and rejoice that this will eliminate the motivation to abuse the system.  Some say that having a disability entitles you to special accommodations, but it doesn't entitle you to a special experience, just an equal experience.

Where do I stand?  Yes, I do think the old system needed some kind of overhaul. Tightening restrictions on who they issue the disability passes to won't work, because Disney cast members are not allowed to ask for proof of disability.  They have to take your word for it. So the only thing to do was to reduce the motivation for scamming the system and make it more equitable with the experience that able-bodied guests enjoy.

But what do I think about the new system?  Is it fair?  Or is it too harsh on families with special needs? Theoretically, the new system sounds great. Guests with disabilities will have to wait like everyone else, but they don't have to wait in line.  They'll be able to rest in a shady area, they can eat in a restaurant, their kids can run around in an open space, they won't feel trapped in line.  When their scheduled ride time comes up, they can head up to the front of the line.

I did think of three issues:

1)  Some children and adults with special needs may decide they want to go on a ride, and are told they must wait an hour -- even if they don't have to stand in line -- they might have a terrific meltdown and ruin the day for the whole family.  I'm not talking about spoiled brats here, I'm talking about people with a genuine inability to process the concept of delayed gratification.

2)  What if a person with special needs is unable to return to the ride at the specified ride time for some genuine reason? Do they have to get a completely new "FastPASS" and get all the way in the back of the "virtual queue"?

3)  How will this work for shows, parades or character meet-and-greets?  

I don't have an answer for those questions, but I'm hoping Disney will, when the time comes.  

It's worth noting the Make-A-Wish kids will not be affected.  These kids literally have no time to spend waiting in line.  It's also worth noting that Disney did work with disability groups, including Autism Speaks, when developing the new system.  It's also worth noting that Disney has always had a great reputation for trying to make the park experience wonderful for everyone: grownups as well as kids, families as well as single people, straight as well as gay, rich or poor (unlike many parks that charge a premium for their express passes, Disney's FastPASS has always been -- and I hope always remains -- free).  

In the end, I'm following the lead of two of my favorite bloggers who just happen to have a child with special needs -- Ellen from Love that Max, and Pilar from Disney Social Media Magic.  Both of them have adopted an open-minded, wait-and-see attitude, and neither of them wants to judge until they have experienced the new system for themselves.

I think that most families with special needs genuinely do not want to be a burden, and I'm hoping that they will give it a try.  If enough families have given the new system a genuine, open-minded try and they still have issues, I will support them.  Because in the end, I am an able-bodied person with a (thankfully) healthy family, and I have no idea what families with special needs have to go through.  Life is challenging enough as it is, and I am happy to wait a few extra minutes if it gives them a more magical day.  

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