In May of 2013, a New York Post article alleged that wealthy parents in Manhattan were hiring disabled "tour guides" to get their children to the front of the lines at Walt Disney World. Shortly thereafter, other media reports revealed that no tour guide is needed, as getting a Guest Assistance Card was as simple as asking.
The Americans With Disabilities Act forbids companies from requiring proof of a disability, so guests were simply claiming to have an autistic child or to be unable to wait in line because of mobility disorders, psychological problems, and other issues. They were rewarded with a card that allowed them unlimited use of alternate entrances and Fastpass lines that sharply decreased their wait time, even when the standby lines were an hour or more.
At the time of the New York Post article and its aftermath, Disney vowed to take a closer look at its program. Today (October 9), marks the start of a drastically revamped program at Walt Disney World. Now, guests with disabilities will get a card that bears their photo and will use it to get return times for rides. Instead of going right into a Fastpass line or alternate entrance, they'll receive a return time on a par with the standby wait. They can choose to pass the time waiting in a spot that meets their needs. For example, those with trouble standing or being out in the sun can find a seat in the shade. Those who can't cope with crowds can pick an out-of-the-way spot. They can also choose to ride another attraction with a short wait or do whatever else they wish in the meantime.
In an open letter, Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, admitted that the current program is not sustainable because of abuse. Although the new program still has some abuse potential, it's much less attractive than the unlimited ability to ride almost instantly all day. You cannot get another return time until you use the first, and you still have to wait, so it's no longer like having a virtual Fastpass. Also, having a photo on the card eliminates the ability to use a disabled family member to get one and then use it to go on rides without that person.
Disney still can't ask for proof of disability, but the new program fits in with ADA regulations. The ADA requires equal accommodations rather than superior access. Thus, requiring the disabled to wait for the same amount of time as able-bodied guests, but in a manner that suits their needs, fits the law.
If you need special accommodations, visit Guest Relations in any of the four parks. They'll be able to issue your card and explain exactly how the new system works. Children on Make-A-Wish trips aren't affected by the changes.