To the distress of many, Disney has announced plans to discontinue the Guest Assistance Card Program at both of its US parks. If you missed the scuttlebutt (my tribute to Talk like a Pirate Day) about some rich folks and scammers who hired disabled people so they could skip the lines at Disney Parks you can catch up here. For many families with special needs kids, the Guest Assistance Card Program was one of the only ways they could enjoy the parks. The card seems to have been a bit of buried treasure (argghh, mateys) with only a few even knowing about the program.
Here's an explanation of the card from a Disney Moms Panel forum:
Cast Members at Walt Disney World Resort truly want every guest to have a magical experience while visiting, and and will go above and beyond to ensure everyone has equal access to attractions and experiences. A Guest Assistance Card (GAC) may be able to help your daughter be more comfortable throughout the Theme Parks. When you arrive, simply head over to Guest Services, and explain your daughter's condition to the Cast Member, she will need to be present as well. The Cast Member will then issue a Guest Assistance Card that is suited to your daughter's individual needs. My husband also requires the use of a Guest Assistance Card, and although we have never been asked for medical documentation, I always bring a doctor's note when traveling to Walt Disney World Resort with my husband just in case.
I have read comments and blog posts and heard parents in person saying that the card is the only way they could enjoy the parks with their special needs child. Many of these kids are on the autism spectrum. The noise, the colors and the frustration of waiting in long lines when they may not really understand why they are unable to ride that glorious ride RIGHT NOW causes them to have major meltdowns. Others talk of having a family member (of any age) who is unable to stand or walk for that long but wants to be part of the outing. With all the recent cuts to special education and services for special needs kids on southern California, losing access to this local sanctuary is particularly upsetting.
To sign a petition asking Disney to reconsider removing the Guest Assistance Card Program, click here. When I first saw the petition this morning there were just over three hundred signatures. Tonight as I write this they are closing in on four thousand.
Keep in mind that the Guest Assistant Card does not jump you to the beginning of the line, it just lets you wait in a different line in a different place. Usually that place is shaded and a little less overstimulating. This mysterious card has clearly been an issue for a while, although the program is only a decade old. Check out this mom's post from over a year ago about Walt Disney World. For more information on the disability policies at Disneyland, click here. There is also an informative pdf available to download. Did you know that in Orlando there are resort rooms equipped with visual signals for hearing impaired guests? I had no idea...
Disney plans to replace the Guest Assistance Card program with the new Disabled Assistance Program, which sounds a lot like the Fastpass system. The parks plan to add kiosks that will dispense the return passes for the major attractions. The big difference is that the guest can only get one return pass at a time, and then must go to the nearest kiosk to get a pass for the next attraction, and so on and so on. The Guest Assistance Card was good on all rides, all day. Seems like a lot of logistics to add to a family with a special needs child or disabled adult. The program is supposed to make the experience easier on the group, not more complicated.
Also new to the program will be digital photos so that the cast members can be assured that the disabled guest is actually riding the ride. Just ask any special needs parent about trying to get their child to hold still for a photo - go ahead, I dare you.
For more details about the changes coming to Disneyland, read MiceAge's latest post here.