Disney’s disability access program: a progress report from Ellen Seidman


Disney recently revamped its disability access program. Here’s an update on how it’s working. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

It’s been almost three months since Disney replaced its Guest Assistance Card with the Disability Service Access Card. The announcement in the fall that the theme park was overhauling its popular — but much abused — program had me, and other moms of children with special needs, wondering how it would work.

Under the old system, people with any type of disability that could interfere with waiting in line or accessing rides received a card that allowed them to wait in shorter lines or use alternate entrances at many attractions. But some people with disabilities were offering themselves as special-access “tour guides,” charging fees to allow people without disabilities to access the shorter lines. Disney revamped its policies to try to curb this abuse.

With the new cards, patrons with special needs go to kiosks and get passes to come back at specific times to ride. It is similar to the Fastpass system that all park-goers have access to.

I was concerned that the new program would make a trip to Disney’s parks less doable for families like ours, which would be unfortunate. As I wrote at the time, I’ve never seen my son happier than he was at Disney World. Even the dreaded automatic flushing toilets didn’t bother him there.

Because he loved it, that made it a fun family vacation for all of us. And yes, his enjoyment was greatly enhanced by the fact that we were able to access the Fastpass lines for rides, and have shorter wait times (though we also went in January, when parks were less crowded).

Just as I was wondering how the new program was working out, Ellen Seidman, author of the blog Love That Max, checked in with a lengthy post about her family’s recent trip to Disneyland. Leave it to Seidman to cover all the bases and give a thorough report.

Some highlights from her post: The system is really flexible, and cast members were happy to work with her to come up with the accommodations that her son Max, who has cerebral palsy, needed. One important thing she notes is that the child with the disability has to be present on a ride for other family members to use the pass.

Parents can combine the regular Fastpass system with the access card to shorten their wait times, Seidman reports, and repeat rides are allowed. She also emphasized the need to be very specific about the accommodations your child may need to fully enjoy the park:

If you’re at Disneyland with a kid who has special needs, tell Guest Relations exactly what will make the visit yours, yours, yours. If necessary, do not hesitate to return and ask for more accommodations for your child, or different ones. Disney’s new policy says that it provides service to guests with disabilities “that is responsive to their unique circumstances.” Every kid and adult with special needs deserves that.

Now that Seidman has tested the water, I feel a little more comfortable contemplating another family trip to a Disney park. I just need to find a deep discount to help fund the excursion. . .

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