The news that the Disney parks are changing the way they provide help to guests with disabilities has been BIG news for families who have enjoyed taking their child or adult with disabilities to the magical kingdom. For many of us, having trained, helpful staff and easier, quicker access to the rides and attractions at Disneyland has been very positive for the whole family, especially for siblings of a child with serious disabilities. In fact, some of the best support groups I have ever participated in have been the ad hoc variety with total strangers while waiting in the disability line for a ride.
Up till now, persons with disabilities were granted a Guest Assistance Card, which granted access through the exit or alternative entrances, providing a shorter wait typically than for other guests. Due to the fraudulent actions of a few, including some super-rich, super-obnoxious families who bragged about hiring “black-market” guides with disabilities for $130 an hour, the executives at Disney had to come up with a new, more, fraud-proof system.
The new program which starts Oct. 9th,is called the Disabled Assistance System, and will require a digital photo of the person with disabilities (an excellent idea), and it will offer guests a return time for an attraction, one at a time, based on the current wait time (not such a good idea) and will be in effect at all Anaheim and Orlando parks
For persons with a physical disability and who use a wheelchair, or scooter, they will still be able to use the exit/alternative access to the rides. Disneyland, the older of the two parks, has fewer rides that can accommodate guests with mobility issues in lines, while the newer Disney World has many more ADA-accessible rides. Since our son, Danny, uses a walker/wheelchair and is mostly focused on the less popular rides such as Winnie-the-Pooh and Pinocchio rides, we aren’t too worried about excessive wait times for those attractions, but I know other parents are angry, especially those who have sunk major money into annual passes for the whole family.
As Jo Ashline of Special Needs Orange County posted about her 11-year-old son with autism, “Andrew is severely cognitively delayed. When he sees Radiator Springs Racers, all he knows is “OMG! MY FAVORITE RIDE! …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.”
The Autism Society of Los Angeles issued a press release, expressing concern for the new policy. “For many families with children with autism, Disneyland is one of the few places of real joy. This is a result of Disney Parks’ wonderful accommodations for our families, said Judy Mark, a close friend and Government Relations Chair for the organization. “To take that happiness away would be tragic.”
So, I have a suggestion to the head honchos at Disneyland— why not let the kids/adults with autism set up a schedule on the day(s) they visit for up to 7 rides each day when they first check in at Guest Relations? They can be given a designated time for check-in at those 7 rides, and the fast passes for the general public can be adjusted to take those riders into account. A schedule can be printed out, and emailed to a smart phone. After those 7 rides, the guests will need to sign up at the kiosks for additional rides one at a time, but at least the person with autism will know with certitude exactly what order and when they will be going on their favorite rides. Less tantrums, less tears, more joy for all.
Now that would really be magical.