Disney’s New Program For Disabilities: Let’s All Stop Thinking The Worst

When word broke last week that Disneyland and Disney World were redoing their program for people with disabilities, parents of kids with special needs were distraught. Instead of a Guest Assistance Card (GAC) that used to entitle families with kids who have special needs to use an alternate entrance to rides, starting October 9 eligible guests would receive a Disability Access Service Card. Similar to the  Fastpass system, visitors with the disability pass would visit a kiosk to receive a specific return time for a ride without having to wait on line in the interim.  The change came about because of reported abuse of the system, including families hiring people with disabilities to whisk them through lines. Autism Speaks was consulted on the new program.

Parents are concerned that the new system will complicate Disney visits, making things harder. The GAC card has  been a godsend for those of us with kids who have issues with waiting on line, either because of sensory issues or cognitive challenges . We’ve visited Disney World with our kids—Max, who’s 10 and has cerebral palsy, and Sabrina, his 8-year-old sis—several times, and it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gotten a special access pass. What’s been particularly upsetting to me is the ignorance and callousness from some commenters, who clearly can’t (or won’t) understand why a child with special needs might need accommodating—and think parents of kids with special needs abuse the system. Sample comments:

“I’m tired of the excuses of not being able to wait in line. (You know who you are. You’re the ones that want your child included in the regular classroom with the normal kids, yet you expect special treatment at the theme park. Oh yeah… if you’re fuming by that statement then look in the mirror… because I’m talking about you.) If your condition makes you unable to wait in line then maybe you should choose another activity that doesn’t require you to wait in lines!”—Eric G., on Theme Park Insider

“All you’re losing is the preferential treatment you seem to have become so blindly accustomed to.”—IndyFan1, on MiceAge

“Overentitled to not waiting in line at WDW much? I’m assuming Disney’s new policy meets all ADA requirements — and getting moved to the front of the line because your precious snowflake would otherwise freak out is, you may be surprized to learn, NOT a civil right.”—Stan, on Tmporary Tourist

“It’s your responsibility and not others to contain you child’s behavior and using a low level neurological condition as an excuse makes you a bad parent.”—Tran on Special Needs Orange County

“I realize there’s an argument, ‘my child can’t make it through an entire day, and having to wait the entire queue time means we get to ride 3 things before he runs out of steam and we have to leave.’ That’s true of many non-disabled children as well, and something all parents struggle to manage in their Disney trips.”—Swrdfghtr, on MiceAge

“Ok Im sorry but I have to say something on here. I think people LOVE to use their childs diagnosis to “get what they want”. Now if your child is SOO horrible about waiting and throws tantrums, there’s an easy fix…don’t take them.”—Amy, on Special Needs Orange County

Comments like these make me fume. Let me just say…

• If we could control our children’s distress at being in crowds and waiting in line, we sure would. Boy, would we love to. We are not bad parents because we can’t help our kids stay calm; they are wired differently than other children. We get them therapy, work on this at home, pray for the best—but busy places like theme parks can cause meltdowns of epic proportions.

• While it’s true that many parents have to cope with young children who can’t wait in line, those of us who have kids with sensory issues have to grapple with the reality that for them, waiting on line is torturous for reasons that go far beyond impatience. The noise, the crowds, the jostling—these are can all be distressing to a sensory child. Also: Some kids have physiological reasons why standing around isn’t easy. For Max, it can make his leg muscles tighten up—uncomfortably so—because of the CP.

A whole lot of us will be watching to see how the new Disney system for people with disability goes. Our family has a trip for Disneyland planned for December, and hopefully a lot of kinks will be worked out before then. I’m keeping an open mind about it. Sadly, there’s no pixie dust to sprinkle on people who have closed minds about kids with special needs and their parents. The best parents can do is keep explaining why cerrtain perceptions are wrong. I think I speak for many parents when I say that I don’t feel my child is entitled so special treatment–just equalizing accommodations that enable him to enjoy Disney, like other kids do.

From my other blog:

Image of Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey Mouse via Shutterstock
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