Widespread panic gripped the internet recently upon the notification that Disney may be ending their special needs accessibility program. And like most widespread panics it came due to misinformation and anxiety.
Even though it is completely understandable to be upset if this was actually occurring. Being the mom of a special needs child myself, and finding Disney only one of few places we can venture would be devastating. But I personally didn’t panic only because I get how media works , its Disney after all and thanks for my autism-spectrum (or ASD) child, panic cannot be part of my realm of existence. So I chose to contact their PR department and did some research.
Disney is NOT ending this program.
They are making changes to it, and the name it is called is changing. These go into effect on October 9, 2013. According to Meg Crofton President of Disney Parks Operations you can expect the same level of care and sensitivity that you always received. “Our commitment to offer an inclusive and welcoming environment for all parks guests has not changed. We have long realized that people have different needs and we will continue to work with our guests with disabilities to provide assistance to their unique circumstances.”
So take a breath and relax, you will still be able to vacation. You may have to make some adjustments, but any ASD mom out there knows, that is part of the deal.
What stays the same.
- You will still get direct access to rides with minimum waiting. Previously we entered the exit or fast pass lines, this remains the same. When there is no line you will receive immediate access.
- You will still get your pass at Guest Relations upon entering the park, it will still be good for the amount of people in your party up to 10. And it will last for 14 days, just like all Disney tickets, if your trip is longer, you just get another pass.
- You will not need a doctor’s note, so no panicking on expensive doctor visits. This works the same as before. Disney upholds the law on the American’s with Disabilities Act.
- The pass is good at all Disney parks during the 14 day period
What is changing
- When there is a long line at the fast pass line, this pass will work like a fast pass. You will be given a return time. Previously you would just get in the fast pass line (if there was one).
- You will be able to sign up for a few rides at guest services when you enter the park on Main Street in Florida. In Disneyland of California there will be kiosks throughout the park to help sign you up for rides.
- The name of the program will be referred to as DAS (Disability Assistance Card) as opposed to Guest Assistance Card, or Mobility Pass.
- The guest who needs the card will have their photo taken.
- The DAS card holder does not need to be present to get the next attraction time, but does need to be with their party when boarding. (This was apparently not enforced before, but we never knew it)
- The new DAS card will allow you faster access to meet and greets, where the previous card did not.
- The old card has no cap on the amount of people in your party, this is for up to 10. Any more than 6 people will have to be present when signing up.
- Ask about a Re-Admit card if you are very concerned about having to use your "first, then" statements or just can not wait. Actual wait times have been stated to be nothing to 20 minute return times
- FastPass+ begins in 2013, this service included with park admission allows you to book up to 3 rides for your whole party every day.
In a Disney Shell
Also for guests who need a wheelchair or scooter do not need a DAS card. They will either enter the regular line, go to an alternate entrance or given a return time. So basically if you have ever taken your child to a Discovery Park such as Sesame Place, Sea World or Busch Gardens this works exactly the same way as it does there. Only difference is getting their picture taken and the pass if good for 14 days instead of 30 as it is at Busch Gardens. We have ventured to Busch Gardens probably 6 or 7 times over the past 4 years and how they run things (in this manner)has never been an issue. If it was we wouldn’t have gone as many times as we have. My son like many of yours has HUGE transitional issues and a lot of anxiety. Which is part of the reason he can not wait in line for long. It is a never-ending wait to him after all. We are limited to what we can do, where we can go and when. But it has never been a problem, so I can't imagine it being one at the "happiest place on earth".
Busy days at Busch Gardens in VA can have over 30,000 people in it, we have never been given a return time longer than 30 minutes. It is not like we are just siting there waiting. We just go grab a snack, play a game or look at something else. Typically you go right on. There will be times this will seem no different, and can be better since you can square away three rides right from the beginning, which means better planning.
You will just need to change your “first” “then” statements when appropriate. I would suggest getting signed up at Guest relations for your first few rides, after that say you are going to (whatever location in the park you wish) such as “first we are going to Adventure land”, once you know what you are riding and when you add "then we are riding Pirates of the Caribbean." After you complete a ride you can sign up for the next at that location.
Fast Pass+ added to this feature will make the planning even easier and works with the DAS card. Fast Pass+ is available for some of the most popular rides in all 4 parks of Disney World. This service is free with park tickets and is rolling out for everyone later in 2013. It is available for some guest in a testing period, you will find out if you can use this when you book. This can help with a child who is particularly obsessed with one ride. Using this service with the idea of covering a child’s favorite thing to do each day can be possible with the advanced planning. When you time arrives you show up within the hour and board the ride with little to no waiting. This service can be used from My Disney Experience from your computer, or as a mobile app on your phone.
So in reality the only thing changing is they way you give your instructions for part of the day. Don't let paranoia or anxiety win. We have been planning a trip for over 2 years now, we are still going.(Feb) I will happily report how it turns out.
From reports of other parents who have tried this already, it seems to be working smoothly. Guest relations has numerous cast members with iPads to assist families. The bottom line is to clearly convey your concerns, Disney will accommodate, they do not want a bunch of miserable people at the "happiest place on earth," they have nothing to gain from that.