Changes to Disabled Policy at Walt Disney World

Filed under: Walt Disney World |

Starting next month, in an attempt to reduce the abuse of their disabilities policy, Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland will no longer allow visitors with disabilities instant access to rides.

Under the current policy, Disney visitors can get a guest assistance card that grants quicker access to rides by entering through attraction exit doors to bypass the main lines.

Recently there were widespread reports of able-bodied people abusing the policy and it seems that some wealthy park visitors were hiring disabled people to pretend to be family members so they could skip lines.

Starting 9 October, guests with a new disability access card will be issued a ticket with a time to enter an attraction, based on the current wait time, so they don’t have stay in line.  Amazingly, no proof of disability is required under either the current or new policies.

When asked why Disney couldn’t keep the current system and require disabled guests to provide proof of disability, Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said, “Due to confidentiality laws, we’re limited in the information we can ask. We have an unwavering commitment to making our parks accessible to all guests. Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing accommodations for guests with disabilities. We engaged disability groups, such as Autism Speaks, to develop this new process, which is in line with the rest of our industry.”

Brown stressed that the program is different from the parks’ Fast Pass program, which issues a limited number of Fast Passes per hour for certain attractions. A guest using the new disability card would get a return time based on the actual wait time for the ride.

Disney, which is starting to train its employees on the new policy this week, will release more details of the program closer to the October 9 roll out date, Brown said. Guests who still have concerns about the policy can talk to guest relations about their assistance needs, she added.

 All we can say is that it is a great pity that people with these disabilities have to now suffer this consequence as a result of the actions of a few abusers. Personally, I think Disney has over reacted to the situation and now runs the danger of greatly spoiling a wonderful day out for those less fortunate.

In saying that, you have to remember that the theme parks in the United States were under no federal obligation to accommodate visitors in wheelchairs, or those with other medical disabilities, before the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 (ADA).  Since then, parks have designed wider exits to allow people to exit attractions quickly and that also served as the point of entry for disabled guests. Naturally, operations staff didn’t want lots of wheelchairs clogging the space at the exit while they waited their “fair turn” to ride, so custom then became to load those parties as soon as possible. That allowed wheelchair parties to bypass not just the queues for attractions, but also the long waiting times that can sometimes build.

Unfortunately, once word got around that you could by pass the line this way, the abuse began. It wasn’t unknown for able bodied people to rent wheelchairs for the day and then skip the lines. Disney then combated that by introducing the Guest Assistance Card program that could only be obtained at Guest Relations when accessing the park.  Of course, many park employees continued to admit guests in wheelchairs through the “back-door” entrances but many also stonewalled others they suspected of trying to cheat the system by asking to see their GAC before letting them ride.

You’d think that would solve the problem wouldn’t you? Unfortunately not as the ADA isn’t just about people in wheelchairs. It also requires the theme parks to have the ability to deal with people suffering from a much wider range of disabilities, such as mental and emotional conditions that make it difficult or impossible for people to deal with confined queues or uncertain wait times. Of course, the civil and criminal penalties for failing to do this can be harsh, so in the end the parks gave out Guest Assistance Cards to just about anyone making a half plausible request.

It’s all rather sad we’ve now arrived at this decision by Disney. We’ll see how the program works and hopefully the powers that be can continue to work the issue so that those genuine cases can still enjoy their day out at the best theme parks in the world.


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