disney das


I promised to write about Disney’s new disability program. I’ve been avoiding it. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s overwhelming, I guess. Trying to find the threads within the fabric – to unravel our trip into days and the days into moments and to somehow deliver it to you in some kind of manageable form. It feels hard.

I’m also afraid that because I didn’t exactly love the new program, I’ll sound overly negative. And I really don’t want to. But the truth is what we all already knew – the DAS (Disability Access Service)  is not the same as the GAC (Guest Assistance Card.) It’s just not. And it makes me kind of sad.

In the past, Disney was a place where we were not just welcomed with open arms (as we still, absolutely, positively, whole-heartedly are), but supremely accommodated. Wait times for rides and attractions were made extremely minimal for our families, while others waited a long, long time. It was a gift to our kids – and our families – to be in a place that went out of its way to make itself accessible to us. For us, and so many others, it was never about entitlement, but access. But some people being what they are, they decided that it wasn’t fair. That if anyone could avoid lines, no matter how valid the reason, they were entitled to avoid lines too. Not because it was the only way that they could access the parks, but because, ya know, they’re them. So they lied. And cheated. And found stomach-turning ways to exploit the system. Eventually, they made it impossible for Disney to accommodate families like ours in the same way.

The DAS worked differently in some ways than had initially been described to me, or at least the way that I’d understood it. Most saliently, there was no ‘disability kiosk’ at which we signed up for rides. Such a thing did not exist. (It might at other parks; I can only speak to WDW in Orlando.)

This is how the system worked for us:

On the first day of our trip, we went to Guest Relations at the first park that we attended. For us, it’s Epcot, because, well, it’s always Epcot. That’s what we do. We ride Spaceship Earth and then the Test Track and then Spaceship Earth again. Cause, ya know, we do.

We tried to get the pass ahead of time to avoid the waiting time for Brooke, but we were told that one cannot set up the pass anywhere other than any of the Guest Relations locations INSIDE the parks. Not in the hotel, not online, not in any way, shape, nor form could we do this ahead of time. As it turned out, the line at Guest Relations moved very quickly and the wait was relatively short, so it wasn’t a big deal.

When we told them that we had come for the pass, the cast members at the desk asked what type of accommodations we needed. We explained that Brooke is autistic and, as such, has a great deal of trouble navigating crowds and withstanding long waits. That was the sum of our conversation.

They snapped her picture with an iPad and printed out a photo card for her (and three companions) to use throughout our stay. They explained that we would use it by going to one ride or attraction at a time and asking for a return time. The cast member manning the line would write the name of the attraction on the card along with the time at which we could return. It was typically the current time plus the estimated standby (walk-up) wait time minus ten minutes. So, if it were noon and Brooke wanted to torture her mother and go on Soaring, which had a 70 minute wait, they would write “Soaring — 1:00 pm” on the card. We could then return any time after 1 pm and proceed through the Fast Pass line, which typically has a much shorter wait than the standby lines.

In the meantime, we were free to use the Fast Pass Plus to schedule up to three rides a day online. With park admission comes access to Fast Pass Plus. In theory it’s a great system, though it still has a lot of limitations due to volume.

Let’s back up a little.

Upon making your reservations to the park, you can log onto My Disney Experience, which has both a website and a mobile app. If you’re staying on property (or are an annual pass holder), you also get a MagicBand, an electronic bracelet which acts as your room key, park pass, photo pass, charge card, and Fast Pass Plus ticket aggregator.

By using the Fast pass Plus app, you can schedule up to three attractions a day for the length of your stay. You can also log on at any time to make changes to your schedule, but, as it turns out, this can be nearly impossible to do as reservations fill up quickly and some rides (particularly the popular ones for which the Fast Pass is most necessary) have no availability at all.

For instance, one day we logged on to change our schedule because we had decided that we wanted to stay at Epcot instead of go to the Magic Kingdom as originally planned. We logged onto the app at 11 am. The open slots for any combination of rides that we wanted were 1:40, then 3:20, then 6:50. Right.

Once you’ve used your Fast Pass reservations (meaning you’ve ridden the rides, the time windows have expired OR you’ve gone to the ride to physically cancel your reservation), you can then go to a Fast Pass kiosk in the park to schedule another one. There are often long (like very long) lines at the kiosks.

Confused yet? If not, don’t worry, you will be by the time I’m done, promise.

We scheduled rides for the trip as soon as we had the ability to do so (this was complicated for us by the fact that our park passes were a gift, so we couldn’t schedule anything until we were there, but you can typically do it pretty far in advance, which is both wonderful and why availability is limited). There were a couple of times that we got it right. One morning, we hit the park right in time for the first ride, then, in between the first and second rides, ran to a fourth to get a return time using the disability pass. That took enough time to chew up most of the wait until the second ride’s window opened. Unlike the disability passes, the Fast Passes do expire. The windows, if I remember correctly, are an hour long. We were able to go on the second ride, then make our way to the fourth at the disability pass return time, then, on the way to the third, sign up for a fifth. You with me? Yes, it was exactly this confusing.

On other days, no matter how much we tried, the timing simply didn’t work. Especially after we’d burned through the three Fast Passes, things began to get complicated. At one point, Luau went up to the Fast Pass kiosk at the Magic Kingdom only to be told that there were no reservations available. At all. For any rides. For the rest of the day.

The only option therefore, since standing on a two-hour line with Brooke is truly not an option, was to choose a ride, go TO that ride, get a return time using the disability pass, and then proceed to try to explain to Brooke for the duration of the fifty minute wait that it wasn’t quite time yet. Nope, not now either. Soon, kiddo. I promise. Nope, not yet. Yes, we showed her the clock. Yes, we used a timer. It is what it is. Time is abstract, folks.

Other than a few scenarios in which we went down in flames, we made it work. We spent a lot more time than ever before in the shops, mostly because we needed to escape the heat during the wait and both of the girls like looking at the various and sundry items for sale. Okay, Brooke likes stimming on the glitter that falls onto the shelves from the costumes, but whatever. We had more downtime in between rides in some cases and far less in others while we ran across a park to make it before the Fast Pass window expired.

The truth is that the new system took a lot of the spontaneity out of the trip, and I missed it. I missed hopping on a ride because it looked like fun, or chasing down a character because, of course, we had nowhere to be thereafter. It was, without a doubt, different. I spent a lot more time futzing with the app on my phone and was always aware of the time.

But at the same time, I get it. I can’t claim that’s it unfair. It’s not. It’s probably far more “fair” in many ways than it was before. It accommodates our kids by offering a perfectly reasonable alternative to waiting in lines and contending with crowds – waiting wherever we want. Nonetheless, the wait, wherever it is, can be tough for our kids – and the accumulation of waits was, at times, more than our kiddo could handle.

The cast members were, as they always are, wonderful. They were warm and accommodating and, as has always amazed me most given the demands of their jobs, patient. They allowed Brooke the extra time she needed, fawned over her sister, and never made either of them or us feel rushed.

If I were queen of Disney, I’d make some (seemingly but probably not at all simple) tweaks to the system. I’d link the DAS pass to the MagicBands so that everything would be accessible electronically. As it stands, you can view all of your reservations (characters, restaurants, rides, etc) online … except those made with the DAS. While keeping the Fast Pass Kiosks, I’d also allow guests to cancel reservations as well as schedule additional reservations (once their three had expired) using their mobile devices. It would alleviate the long wait on a line to avoid a long wait on a line. And I’d allow disabled guests to schedule more than one ride at a time. Even two would eliminate much of the limbo time in between rides and mitigate a great deal of the anxiety that Brooke had to manage.

I had been told ahead of time by various folks at Disney that if a disabled guest had an affinity for particular rides and would want to schedule them more than once, they would be able to do that ahead of time – that we could, for instance, set up multiple visits to Small World with one request given that Brooke likes to ride it no less than four times in a row. When we asked both at the ride and again at Guest Relations about that, no one had the foggiest idea what we were talking about and told us it wasn’t possible.

On the flip side, we were thrilled to see that many of the character visits are now officially attractions, meaning that we could sign up for either DAS times or reserve them through Fast Pass Plus, which had not been an option before. That was big.

The bottom line is that it was doable. But truthfully, I don’t think it would have been two years ago. Brooke is in a very, very different place now than she was then. I can’t imagine her handling the waits and the running and the timing and the strategizing and the chaos that this trip, to some degree, entailed. Now she can. And I’m grateful for that on so many levels, but so too it makes me sad for those who are now where she was two years ago. It makes me sad that under the new system, we might have had to wait until she was eleven to really be able to make this work. What I will say though is that if it’s not working for you, go talk to guest relations and tell them what your child needs to make it work. Though we didn’t get to the point of needing to ask, I’m convinced they’d have helped if we had.

As much as it saddens me that it’s harder than it used to be, it makes me angrier that people out there abused the system. It makes me angry because they didn’t see — or perhaps better said, didn’t care — that there were real consequences for real families to doing so.

Nonetheless, I am grateful to Disney for finding a way to work around the abuse and still eagerly welcome our families to the parks as they always have —  to join in the magic, and to, as we did, make memories that will last a lifetime.



{image is a photo of Brooke with Chippy and Dull, as she calls them, better known as Chip and Dale)


{image is a photo of Katie on Luau’s back in front of Cinderella’s castle}

Ed note: Once again, still, always … To Papa, Grandma Noe, Jennifer, Rich, Mark, Kim, Naomi, Jen, Kay, Molly, Jen, Ed and Ed, THANK YOU. We will never, ever forget what made this trip possible.




88 thoughts on “disney das

  1. It is very different and therefore disappointing. You managed to navigate it but so people will be unable to do so. You did, however, make beautiful memories.

    Love you,

    • We have just returned from Disney, and this new DAS system does not work, It is awful. example. the buzz light year ride was 55 min, we had to return in 45 min, and then we waited another 35 min on the fast pass handicapped line….really! Disney has go to do better. I understand that some people took advantage of this system, but why is everyone else having to pay for it.
      We were there two years ago, and it worked well, we were put on the fast pass line waited and then go on the ride.
      Disney get with it

  2. I can understand why you were overwhelmed at the thought of writing this. I was wondering how the new system worked. I wish the jerky people that felt entitled to abuse a system put in place for disabled children would read this. They should be tracked down and charged with fraud. It’s disgusting.

  3. I’m so very sad. My 15 year old severely autistic son loves and adores Disney movies. Buzz and Woody have been his constant since he was 2. We’ve never been able to afford a trip to Disney but I always hoped we’d be able to before my oldest graduates (she starts her senior year this fall) but with 5 kids the cost was daunting. I’d always held on to stories about how accommodating Disney was, and hoped and prayed that it would still be like that by the time I was finally able to get my boy there. It seems that ship may have sailed 😦 You seemed to make a great trip though Jess, and I’m glad you and family were able to experience some positives, and your pictures are heartwarming.

  4. I am happy to hear that the family had a good time. It made me sick knowing that “healthy” people were hiring disabled people to be part of their party. It makes me sick that the “healthy” people have NO idea what parents of children with disabilities go through EVERY SINGLE DAY. And then there are the parents with kids who have life threatening illnesses who also lost out on the previous system. EVERY SINGLE DAY families deal with chemo, feeding tubes, seizures, and some other family cashed in and hired someone so they could be part of the “club.” Living a week in my life is one thing, but having friends with kids with cancer and seizure disorders . . . I remember life is delicate. But, to the people that caused the first sytem to disappear, really disappoint me.

    I will get off my soap box nox.

  5. We visit Disney every year. The GAC was the best. Nickolas could thoroughly enjoy his trip which in turn meant the rest of us could as well. This year with the new system in place it was much more difficult. To explain to my 6 year old that we couldn’t go yet ( and not for awhile) was VERY difficult. It was taxing on the rest of the family and very hard for my little guy to deal with.
    We understand why it had to be done, but I think it needs to be tweaked.
    It still remains though, a wonderful place for our kids!

  6. We waited a long time to bring our child back to Disney as she has a severe seizure disorder. While she looks and acts pretty normal, don’t let her start to melt under the Florida sun…heat is a trigger. As with many kids with a seizure disorder, my child also has autistic and add symptoms. Waiting in any line is way too difficult and her stamina is short lived. We went to Disney in March. All that was described above is absolutely accurate. It became too much and, with a perfect smile, no one would allow us shorter waiting times or the ability to sign up for back to back rides. By her 4th ride she was exhausted. We also went to Universal. With the pass there, she got on any ride she wanted to with the exception of Harry Potter,fairly quickly.
    For a kid who has spent half her life in hospitals, it is a sad thing that she can’t really enjoy the parks and it becomes very stressful to the parents. While she qualifies for Make a a Wish, we would rather see a terminal child enjoy those benefits.
    It’s a sad world we live in…

  7. One of my favorite memories from a Disney trip when I was a child had nothing to do with a ride. While we were taking some stimulation free quiet time, tucked in a corner by some beautiful trees and flowers in EPCOT, Chip and Dale appeared from no where and did what could only be described as a private show for us. They were so funny and walked along the ledge and interacted with us. We felt so special and it was just magical. They spent a good 10 minutes with us and then moved onto to their photo op spot. Returning as an adult I always impart on the kids the magic of everything there, not just the hottest ride at the moment. My daughter has severe food allergies so we had a lot of accommodating to do, as it is a park full of food and sweets. None of which we could have, AND we had to wait hours upon hours for a ride. We were just happy to be there, and to enjoy the little things (like finding the hidden Mickeys).

    • I read on Disney Parks blog they have a food cart at Animal Kingdom that has food for visitors with food allergies, you might want to check it out.

  8. Ditto Darlene…We visit every year too. And the GAC was the best. We try to take the parks at a leisurely pace. Kind of go with the flow. It keeps everyone’s emotions at a nice level. If we walked by Pirates and Roenick wanted to go on we did and showed the GAC and then continued on. This last time we went we set up our Fast Passes. Never made one at MK. We were never where we needed to be and I wasn’t about to tell the family to RUN from Adventureland to Tomorrowland. We just went with the flow. I completely understood why this needed to be done too but so many things need to be worked out. We go again in November and I’m already planning our attack. We didn’t get the GAC this last time. I didn’t think Roenick would be able to handle the “walk away from the ride and come back” thing. I was so proud of him though. He did sooooo amazing. You could tell if it was a ride he reeeeaaallly wanted to ride, he powered through.

  9. Disneyland is very different. There are kiosks everywhere and you nc go to any kiosk to schedule a ride with the disability pass. You can even be at california adventure to schedule a time at disneyland. We are pass holders and go all the time and it works perfect for my 3 year old. My only issue is that she’s 39 inches. Too short for the roller coasters she loves. Next time try out disneyland. I think it will work out better. It makes me sad that disney world wasn’t that accommodating!

  10. We were at Disney a few weeks ago with Make a Wish so we got a special pass thing. I did feel pretty guilty using it at first but after Joseph had an issue waiting in a queue to see Minnie (no staff member there) then I used it to its full potential. I was pretty shocked to hear that people would use someone in that way to gain access I do wish my child was able bodied and minded that we could wait in a queue for an hour just to see Mickey but ge will never be that way and the fact that people take advantage has ruined what sounded like an amazing system.

    • Hi Gemma! My daughter is using her wish from Make A Wish to go to Disney and I have a ton of questions. Would you mind if I sent you a private message on your facebook page?

  11. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Disney World has been a very happy place for our family. We’ve taken multiple trips over the past few years with our 2 kids, including our son (who was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 3). He is in constant motion- he has secondary diagnoses of ADHD and anxiety, and one would think that Disney World would be completely overwhelming for him. It’s true that he gets over-stimulated at times, and we pay close attention to what he needs when we’re there to feel happy and safe. However, we have never used a GAC for any of our 5 trips. It was always comforting to know it was there if we needed it, but we have been able to manage with the Fast Pass system (which has now been replaced by FP+, but was very similar to the new DAS), and (as he got older and his coping skills improved) the stand-by line.

    I know that our house on autism street is not the same as anyone elses. I know that we have an advantage in that my very mathematically-oriented child has a very keen grasp of time. I know that we have been privileged to be able to take our trips when the parks haven’t been as busy. But as he’s gotten older, we have been able to increase our time in the stand-by line from “nothing over a 5 min. wait” to “yes Mom, I want to stand in line for 60 minutes to go on Kali River Rapids” in the middle of August. (And yes, that was hard for him, and yes, it was at his request). Not only that, but he got to the point where we could get a Fast Pass return time, leave the park for lunch, and come back for our return time his absolute, most favorite ride, ever. Others would not have the same experience, but it has worked for us.

    I don’t claim to know what’s best for your family, or for anyone else. I am very sorry for everyone who used the GAC and who were used to touring the parks in a certain way. I know that I had the same feeling of panic when I read about the changes to the Fast Pass system- while our child can handle waiting to get on a line, we will need to adapt to not being able to just walk up to his favorite rides and get a return time. Given the FP+ changes, we might need to get a DAS for our next trip, but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to manage. Thank you again for your honest review, and I’m glad you were able to make many happy memories, despite the challenges.

  12. Thanks for writing this. We’re going back in September with our three autistic children. I’m already nervocited as my daughter would say. My only hope is that the lines will be shorter at that time of year, because I am not looking forward to a meltdown in triplicate when we have to walk away from a favorite ride. I’m really glad you were able to make it work for your family. Sadly, the rich folks that were previously able to take advantage of the system, still can by hiring a Disney VIP tour guide for something like $300 an hour. They can get right onto the rides, no wait….. But we’ll make it work- just lots of planning ahead.

  13. I think you wrote a very fair assessment. We go at least twice a year to WDW and use the GAC. For rides my son really likes we use both the DAS and FP+. It is doable. Unfortunately I never had the walk on experience with a GAC so many talk about. I actually prefer the DAS system. One of the biggest things I have worked on with my son is waiting his turn. It is hard with certain rides though. Glad you managed to have a good time

  14. Thanks for the review, in my opinion it’s probably one of the best and most fair review I have read. We have a 12 year old with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Broc functions at about 12 months, uses a wheelchair, and has 30 or 40 seizures a day. We have taken him to WDW many times and while the news story about people paying for a GAC tour guide made for a good story in my opinion the abuse starts long before Disney, It starts with the overuse of labels for children. The park was overwhelmed by people who had children with “special needs”….everyone needs a label for their child and so when 1 in 68 kids that come through the gate have a diagnosis of Autism and therefore think they need special access there was no way the current system could work. Thanks again….very fair review.

      • Autism is certainly a real diagnosis, we have a neighbor that is severely Autistic but what I question is the every expanding criteria for the diagnosis.

    • A disability is a disability…who are you to judge what is worthy of a pass? It sounds to me like you are blaming the diagnosis or to paraphrase you, has a “special need” or a label on the problems with Disney’s old ways. Shame on you, you have a child with a special need, yet you feel that his disability is more worthy than someone else’s? I didn’t know it was going to be a pissing match to see whose kid was more disabled and worthy of special treatment at Disney. How would you feel if I started to assess your child and his needs and told you he was perfectly able to wait in long lines since you wouldn’t know when he would have a seizure or not? I think you would feel hurt…no worries because I would never ever begrudge your child the magic of Disney by interjecting my opinion on you!!!

  15. I’m glad you were able to make this work for you. Thank you for writing this up, as I know now there is no way we can do this with our son. Maybe in the future with a lot more therapy he will be capable of the patience required for this system. The people who screwed up what Disney offered before should be miserably ashamed of themselves, because they really did ruin it for a lot of us.

  16. I think you hit it right on the head with your analysis. We live in the area (can hear the fireworks every night – so close!) and had annual passes that just expired. So we went quite a bit over the past year. Before that, we are lucky enough to know several people who work there and can get us in for free, so we went a few times then. Our days were so much better with the old GAC. We didn’t “lose” him as quickly (where he would want to leave) because we could stay busy riding the rides he wanted to. And that was huge. It meant we could stay longer.

    I was talking to a friend who works in attractions there and he argued with me about how the GAC wasn’t fair because we were able to go on 10 rides in a 4 hour period as opposed to 5 (not necessarily accurate, but you get it). I patiently explained to him that when you have a child on the spectrum, you are trying to, in essence, beat the clock. There is no way you are going to be able to spend a full day there, from open to close. When he’s done, he’s done, and that’s it. So our time is limited. We NEED to fit more into a shorter period. Because when he decides he’s not doing anymore or has a major meltdown, you need to leave. I’m not sure my friend got it.

    It’s really a shame that they had to change it because of a bunch of jerks trying to beat the system. Thanks for your honest review.


    • Kim, You’ve hit the nail on the head! And it is so hard to explain. People can be “nice” and “accommodating” but it is very difficult to get useful understanding from someone what has never stepped near our shoes. When I read your 10 rides is 4 hours because that 4 hours is all you have, I know from where you speak, but I’ve tried explaining that to someone only to have them suggest that perhaps my daughter could stay longer, perhaps I baby her, perhaps if she really wanted to . . . . I too am very sorry to see the old system change. On our last trip to Disney last Christmas, she was able to handle the new system but I found it very stressful for me, and three years ago it would have been impossible.

    • Wow! Sounds like your “friend” who works in attractions is one of those jerks who just doesn’t get it!! I guess not all the employees are interested in making ALL kids feel they are on the most magical trip of their lives at the happiest place on Earth!!!

      • I’ve run into some sour grapes cast members at Disney World. What you do is write down their name if you have it, what area of the attraction they were hosting, the name of the attraction, and what time you were there. Then give all that info to guest services including a description of the incident. They’ll make sure to pull aside the CM and tell them what for.

  17. Wow, that sounds like such a massive cognitive accessibility fail…I tend to be okay waiting in lines, but I seriously don’t think I could navigate the system you just described.

    And I stage manage professionally.

    It really doesn’t sound like Disney understands the core issues yet.

  18. We went to the Magic Kingdom on the Tuesday before you were at Disney to take my 6 year old son for the very first time. My little guy has a very hard time waiting for anything. We used the Fast Pass +, the disability pass, as well as the stroller as a wheelchair tag. My son tends to lay (flop) down when he is tired, regardless of where we are, and he is too big to carry for very long. That tag worked the best for us. We scheduled our Fast Passes right away when we got in the park. When it was time to use the first one, for it’s a small world, (five minutes later) they didn’t ask us to use our fast pass. They sent us to the wheelchair entrance, and put us on the ride right away. It worked like that on quite a few rides. We ended up using a total of 4 fast passes, and used the disability pass 3 times throughout the day. We were lucky to be able to schedule everything we wanted without waiting. The one time there was a small wait, we used the time to eat. We had a successful first visit. Hopefully others will have the same luck as we did.

    • I’m so happy to hear these stories. A couple of folks have mentioned that the stroller as wheelchair option is very helpful for their younger kids, which is great. I wasn’t thrilled when it was suggested as an alternative for my eleven year-old, but I would have happily used it when she was younger.

  19. Our family was there in 2011 shortly after our daughter was diagnosed with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (mix of Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Scleroderma) and RND. So she deals with daily pain and should not be exposed to too much sun. 2011 our trip was wonderful. The system worked for us and she was using a scooter on that trip because of her RND.

    We returned in early May of this year and I have never been so mad. The new system does not work for her needs one bit. We were left waiting too long in the sun, which created pain in her joints.

    It also made my daughter feel ashamed and upset the entire day feeling like she let us down. Not anyway a child should feel. They need to fix their system and educate themselves.

    As for guest relations, my husband did return to the guest relations early in our day and told them this was not working for her. They told my husband there was nothing more they could do for us. I have no problem getting doctors documentation for my child, which is what they need to do. It would solve all the creeps that have ruined it for our children.

    I WILL not be returning to DisneyWorld. Something needs to change, its about the children. Walt Disney would be appalled at this system and how it makes children feel.

    • Oh, Brenda, I’m so sorry. And so disheartened to hear about the reaction from Guest Relations. It seems that one of the biggest problems is the variability of responses depending on who you talk to rather than a well-disseminated and clear policy of creative accomodation when necessary. I do hope you told corporate about your experience.

    • Our 12 year old granddaughter has a condition where she breaks out in extremely itchy hives if she overheats. Once she has a breakout, she is done for several hours until they go away. She doesn’t necessarily need to be in the sun — just being in a close, crowded area that heats up will set them off. We managed MK pretty well as the rides are closer together. However, Epcot, was a different story. Having to hustle back and forth between areas to meet timelines, was very hard on her, and we received the same response from guest relations as you — there was nothing they could do. Since when does Disney say ‘can’t’ to a child? This is not the customer service I have known since 1971 — very disappointed.

  20. Thank you for this even-minded assessment of the Disney DAS system. It really does sound like Disney came up with a way to accommodate those with special needs without perpetuating the preferrential treatment folks often got with GAC.

    The GAC was never intended to be a skip to the front of the pass — though it more often than not ended up working that way for kids on the spectrum. Which wasn’t fair — a kid with a special need didn’t “deserve” a better Disney experience simply because their day to day life might’ve been harder than that of a non-disabled kid.

    Theme park tickets aren’t issued on the basis of how hard one’s life is — an if an “average” Disney visitor gets 1 ride per hour, then no kid with a DAS should get more than 1 ride per hour. (This business of insisting that an autistic kid can only last an hour or two and therefore deserves 7-8 rides, a whole day’s worth, in a 2-hr Timespan is moot. Pretty much any kid under 5 melts down after a couple of hours and doesn’t get special treatment). Getting accommodation for a SN isn’t the same thing as getting a better Disney experience (less waits! More rides!).

    (Make a Wish kids are the exception — and my understanding is that they always had better-than-GAC access/treatment and that has been deservedly maintained).

    • Carlee, While I understand where you’re coming from, I fear that your response paints with a very broad a brush and veers into a common misperception that, even in cases where a shorter wait time is essential to allow a child to access the parks, offering that accommodation is a matter of entitlement rather than access.

      A guest in a wheelchair needs a ramp to be able to access a ride that would otherwise require them to walk up and down stairs., without the ramp, they simply can’t ride the ride. While it might indeed be easier for that guest’s companions to walk down a less crowded ramp than to navigate packed stairs, or perhaps the “perk” of the ramp is that it allows faster, more direct access to the ride, the ramp is not there because wheelchair users “deserve a better Disney experience” than non chair users, it’s there because it’s the only way that they can access the ride at all.

      This, I believe, is where a lot of the confusion occurs. We weren’t – and aren’t ever – looking for a “better experience” than anyone else by largely avoiding lines (which, as you mention, was never the intention of the GAC anyway, but was undeniably a consequence of the prior setup). We were, however – and are – looking for the ability for our child to be able to experience it at all.

      Yesterday, I posted an image on Diary that I described thusly: Image is a split screen of two different drawings of the same three boys: one tall, one middle sized and one very short, looking over a fence at a ballgame. In the first, they are all standing on single boxes. The taller boy towers over the fence, the middle boy is just able to see above it, and the short boy can see nothing. In the second drawing, the tall boy stands on the ground, perfectly able to comfortably see over the fence without a box, the middle boy still has one box, enabling him the same, and the short boy now has two boxes so that he too can see. The text below the drawings reads: “Fair doesn’t always mean everyone getting the same thing. Sometimes it means each of us getting what we need to be able to DO the same things.”

      I find it very useful to visualize this concept.

      As to, “any kid under five melts down,” that’s true, but my kid is eleven. And there is a very big difference in her experiencing an autistic meltdown do to the intrinsic challenges of her system than a toddler who’s exhausted fizzling at the end of a long day. As I wrote after speaking to a Disney executive back in September …. “I told her WHY waiting on lines is so hard. I explained that my daughter feels physically threatened when she’s jostled or even inadvertently touched on a line. That the perceived threat can send her into flight or fight mode. That she can lash out or run. That the sensory stimulation of the various noises, particularly children talking and crying in an enclosed space, often cause her to cry out and shriek and, when severely over her limit, hurt herself. I told her that while my first concern was always my child, it was clearly not an ideal situation for those around us either.”
      As I said in today’s post, we felt very blessed that our daughter has reached a place where she can (mostly) manage the new system. But does that mean that if she were still where she was two years ago, she shouldn’t have had the accommodation she needed (not that we wanted, but that she *needed*) in able to make the parks accessible and the trip possible? (No, it doesn’t, and it can’t mean that for all the other folks who can’t manage it as is either.)

      For those of us who did not abuse but relied on the system, it’s not, and never was, a matter of entitlement. It was – and remains – a matter of access.

      • while we are not all as well spoken as you, I think Carlee was trying to convey an agreement with the right to an equally enjoyable experience. The perception that one person being able to ride say 30 rides throughout the day while others may be limited to 7-8 is not “fair” is a valid one and I don’t think negates the agreement that we don’t all need th same size box to stand on.

      • You’re comparing apples to oranges. My son uses a wheelchair and if stairs are the only way to access a ride then it’s obvious that the stairs won’t work for him. It’s hard for someone to argue that point. On the other hand if someone tells the customer service representative at WDW that their child “can’t wait in long lines” then how do they determine who get’s accommodations and who doesn’t? That is the dilemma that Disney was in, too many people were walking through the door requesting a GAC and there was no reasonable way to sort them out. When my teenage girls were younger we had many a meltdown in the lines as WDW and they didn’t make 12 hour days in the park, it was usually 5 or 6 hours then back to the room for a nap that’s not specific to kids with special needs.

        The reality is this, as someone who has used the GAC on several occasions I can tell you it’s a front of the line pass, that’s what it was. It’s a permanent Fastpass and people grew accustom to that and that is what they want. If the line is a 60 minutes wait and WDW gives you a pass to come back in 30 minutes which is 10 minutes sooner than every other family then I think that is a fair accommodation.

      • Mike, I’m not sure I follow. With all due respect, what I believe you just said is that because one disability is visible to the naked eye and the other isn’t, the former is a valid reason for accommodation while the latter isn’t. I’m hoping I got that wrong.

        I recognize that it’s much harder to police, but I can’t imagine making a logical leap that being harder to “sort out” means not worthy of being accommodated.

        When reading about the abuse that caused all of this, there was a lot of talk about people renting wheelchairs in order to get the GAC. For Disney, that practice would put people with seemingly visible disabilities at equal risk of being imposters than those claiming invisible ones.

        Perhaps because they’d gone through the trouble and expense of renting the chair, they deserve to go through anyway? Yes, that was meant to sound absurd.

        (Full disclosure: We rented a wheelchair for Katie years ago when she broke her foot two days before our trip and was in a foot / leg cast. We couldn’t see another way to get her around the parks. While crutches would have been technically possible, she wouldn’t have lasted twenty minutes on them. She just didn’t have the arm strength to manage much more than a few feet at a time. Should we have been denied a pass (not a real question as we had one for Brooke anyway) because she was technically able-bodied and could theoretically have been on crutches or because we could have just rescheduled our trip for when she could walk again (which would have cost us the entire cost of the trip because we didn’t have insurance)? I’m not trying to argue, and I know I sound defensive, but I’m really uncomfortable with an argument that questions the validity of a disability (or inaccurately compares it to the challenges that the nondisabled face) just because you can’t see it at first glance.

    • Thank you, Jess, for the explanation. I think I understand where you’re coming from a better but don’t quite agree.

      For your girl, waiting in lines is physically painful (in a way it isn’t for a “typical” kid) and the accommodation she received addressed it (she got to wait her turn someplace else). Makes perfect sense. Her need was accommodated.

      I guess the part I don’t get is why anyone would bring a kid who found waiting in lines, loud noises, crowds and getting jostled to a loud, crowded, long-lined Disney Park in the first place. Brooke is absolutely entitled to be there, as is your whole family and anybody and everybody else, regardless of their abilities/disabilities and that right is 100% supported by the ADA legislation. I don’t get the “why”.

      (I was raised by my dad, who is awesome and just happens to blind. We took a big trip every summer, mostly to classical music festivals in Europe. While he was happy to take me to museums, art galleries, etc, I preferred activities we could both enjoy. It wasn’t a hardship, not in the least and have no regrets. My dad and stepmom take my two preteen girls on a trip every summer — and they too pick activities everybody can enjoy and participate in. Even though my kidlets and stepmom, 3/4 of the people in their party, have perfect vision.

      That’s why I just can’t quite wrap my brain around taking a family vacation that is likely to be difficult if not physically painful for a family member. Surely there are a million less crowded, less loud, less long-lined places you could take Brooke).

      • Carlee, thank you so much for reading and for continuing the conversation. The “why” is because she wants to go. It’s never been because we thought she “should” get to experience it, but because she so desperately wanted to. Because, while she does struggle with certain aspects of them, she LOVES fairs and festivals and amusement parks. Because she ADORES the characters (with an intensity that i have found unmatched in my neurotypical circles) and her interactions with them are pure magic. Because she LOVES rides and her sensory system thrives on the excitement of them in concert with the vestibular input and speed and physical pressure that is so unique to them. While I try desperately not to toss my cookies on Space Mountain, my girl squeals happily behind me the entire way around the track. I’ve never seen her as happy as she is on Disney’s roller coasters. So while there are challenges to going, there are also many, many things that are unique to Disney (and some that can be replicated at other amusement parks, which we seek the same accommodations to access) that are some of her greatest joys.

      • May I offer for you to read 3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten Year Romance with Snow White by Ron Miles ( http://www.amazon.com/3500-Autistic-Ten-Year-Romance-White/dp/1482093308) to help you understand WHY people do that? Why some families with autistic kids actually will move ACROSS THE COUNTRY to give their kids the luxury of Disney??

        Disney is MAGICAL. It simply is. Why do we bring our kids? Because with the proper supports, they can get something they almost never get in “real” everyday life, something positively most every human being craves–“magic moments.” When we are little, we have magic moments like, say when we built clubhouses in the forty acres of old grown over orchards we lived on and pretending I ruled a magic kingdom. It was pretending I was flying when I was on the swing. It was riding my bike in circles and feeling so sensory free (yes, I am on the spectrum). For our kids–the world is just a little harder to navigate, a little harder to find that freedom. In Disney, kids ARE the kings. It is NOT a myth that many kids have made some miraculous spontaneous developmental advances after visiting Disney. Why? The same as we are so much more motivated when we are falling head-long in love. We are in a state of euphoria. We have been reminded that life, in all it’s hardship IS beautiful. It’s putting therapy aside (or school for typical kids or work for adults) and just “being.” It’s NO different for our kids! They have the same wants for “magic moments,” like falling in love and being treated like royalty. And the propriocetive and vestibular input from rides, the beautiful scenery and the characters, characters they recognize, that feel safe to them? That conjure feelings of history and connection? Like the most luxurious Swedish spa treatments in the world to many of our spectrumite children. It’s feeding the soul by feeding the senses, same as the things adults like to do, same as other kids like to do.

        It’s the same reason some people empty their bank accounts to take a trip to Alaska or to the Carribean. It’s that refreshment that despite all our hardwork, there are moments to be had and memories to carry us along.

        The difference now is that those whose thresholds are lower are being robbed of their “magic moment.” It’s saying…”You’re too needy to deserve what we offer here. While we don’t refuse you service, we think you are just too much to deal with–>because if I help you, Joe Blow and HIS kids get all jealous. And we can’t have jealousy here. Really, our hands are tied…”

        Why anyone could see this otherwise, I don’t understand.

        As for the lines–>it isn’t always the lines perse. It’s the WAIT. It’s waiting in shops where a hyped up stimmy kid has a big chance of accidentally breaking something. It’s waiting near stands where a kid with impulse disorders can’t understand why they can’t buy everything on that stand. It’s waiting while a child is perseverating and hyperfocusing on the next magical moment. It’s holding the golden lollipop right in front of our childrens’ lips and saying “it’s here but you can’t have it.”

        Many of the spectrumite populations pay to go to Disney, dearly because money doesn’t always come as easily with our families for numerous reasons. We pay the same amount and guarantee stay at LEAST 25% less of a day, if not more, than our NT peers’ kids. The money still comes to them. A very small percentage of the population is disabled/handicapped. They are a big minority. When abused, yes, this is absolutely problematic. And not every child with autism would NEED full access to ALL of what the GAC offered. Not every individual with a disability would either, but to say that it simply should have been banned and not offered at all for those who DO is, to me, petulant, at best, deeply lacking in compassion and respect for others at it’s worst.

      • If it helps to clarify, I know that for me, waiting whatsoever–as in, having to postpone something I intended to do right now–is physically painful, and waiting in lines is just the extra-sadistic version of waiting (i.e. waiting in one place and not being able to leave). And this is primarily because I have literally no sense of time whatsoever–imagine like, how it felt to sit in the most boring class you ever took, looking at the clock and hoping that it’s been 30 minutes when it’s actually been five. It feels like that, but 24-7 (it’s a dopamine thing, and it sucks).
        So I think what Jess was getting at was that, for some kids, not being able to either a. schedule a day without waits beforehand, or b. go on rides when they get to them, is actually a barrier to them being able to go on rides whatsoever. I think it’s also important to note that, for kids with mobility/energy-related disabilities, any kind of waiting is going to be “waiting at the ride and not being able to go other places” because they won’t have the ability or stamina to roam around to other places while they wait.

        I can also say that, as another vestibular-stim fiend, rollercoasters are like a drug. I basically get high off of carnival rides. I kid you not. I would go on them over and over and over if I could. I never want to get off. For the same reason I loved going on the tireswing and getting whipped around by the big kids in school, and for the same reason I’ve never been seasick a day in my life. Not to mention that the rigid bars/straps of rollercoaster seats, combined with all the crazy motion, makes for really great deep-pressure stimulation. Which is also like a drug. So really, there’s a lot of things about amusement park rides that you can’t get anywhere else, and that are especially comforting and happy-making for some autistic/special needs kids.

    • What I am saying is this….if there is a wheelchair line then it’s black and white; it’s not a opinion, those with wheelchairs use the wheelchair line. If someone walks up to the wheelchair line and says I want to walk through the wheelchair line then the CM says “no you are standing, you are not in a wheelchair”. On the other hand if it’s a hidden disability then there is absolutely no way to deny anyone the accommodation. If 5000 people a day walk up to the counter and say “my child screams and cries when they have to wait in line” how do you begin to decide who has a valid need and who doesn’t? That’s the situation Disney was in.

      I’m not comparing the validity of the need, I am comparing Disney’s ability to make a fair and accurate judgement about who has a need and who doesn’t. It’s simple to say wheelchair\no wheelchair but it gets very complex to say needs a GAC\doesn’t need a GAC.

      • “my child screams and cries”
        You obviously don’t understand the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. One is a child trying to exert control and get their way, the other is a neurological reaction to stimuli/senses overstimulation. Call it a panic attack of their neuro system or a type of seizure where there is no control over their actions. They cannot control it – they don’t want to scream or cry. Its uncontrollable but preventable in most situations with their legally protected accommodations and access.
        Thousands of older adults and people with obesity rent jazzies for their stays in Disney. Should they be allowed to access the wheelchair line because they are using a mobility device even though they do not use them on a daily basis (or ever) at home?

      • “You obviously don’t understand the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. One is a child trying to exert control and get their way, the other is a neurological reaction to stimuli/senses overstimulation. Call it a panic attack of their neuro system or a type of seizure where there is no control over their actions. They cannot control it – they don’t want to scream or cry. Its uncontrollable but preventable in most situations with their legally protected accommodations and access.”

        I understand that but you aren’t understanding what I am saying. There is 20 year old kid from Nebraska working the customer service line at Magic Kingdom and a parent comes in and says “my child can’t wait in line, it overwhelms him and he scream and cries”. Would your expectation be that this CM say “is it screaming and crying or a neurological reaction? Is it a panic attack or is it controllable?”

        How does this young adult begin to sort out who has a need and who doesn’t? They can’t so then it becomes a situation where they are unable to deny anyone and that leads to a system that was broken.

      • Mike, the situation you describe is literally the same situation that faces every business or institution when it comes to accommodating disabilities. It’s not new, or insurmountable. Your argument is the argument people make when they consider excluding some disabled people to be the price you have to pay to keep out the “cheaters.” I think a lot of people on this blog would disagree with that premise.

        Additionally, I don’t think that anyone was advocating that each individual Disney line attendant independently determine the validity of a child’s disability at the ride itself. This would be ridiculous, especially given that
        1. Not all people with mobility issues use wheelchairs.
        2. Not all people with mobility issues are visibly disabled.
        3. Having an invisible disability doesn’t mean you don’t have other disabilities.
        4. The idea that autism and other brain-disabilities are invisible is, frankly, laughable.
        5. Given that Jess, as well as virtually all the parents commenting on this post, first went through main offices at the places they visited, and got identification from those offices, I don’t see how your argument applies. None of these people were saying ” My child cries and throws tantrums when they have to wait in line, let us go first.” They were saying “Hey my kid is autistic/has X disability, we’ll need some help when it comes to dealing with lines.” those are really, seriously not the same thing.

        Sorry, but your argument seems like 99% rhetorical-straw-man to me.

      • “The idea that autism and other brain-disabilities are invisible is, frankly, laughable”

        What does this person look like?

      • Preliminary points: First of all, there isn’t “a” person with “invisible” disabilities. There are, in fact, many different people. Second, given that we’re people, and not fold-out illustrations in an anatomy and physiology textbook, you can’t actually armchair-diagnose us by looking at photos of our bodies. Third, as a side-note, they would look like me.

        But anyways. To answer your question, they look like the kid that gets called “r*******” by their classmates, the woman who spins in circles while she waits for the bus, the man who lines his belongings up in lines. They look like me when I rock back and forth in public, when I flap my hands because I found a good book at the library, when I stare at the floor for a whole conversation. They look like all the other autistic adults whose blogs Jess links to on this page, and they look like the children that Jess and her parent-blogger compatriots write about.

        See, the reason I dislike arguments like yours about “fairness” and “proof” and “validity” is that even while you argue that children and adults like Brooke and myself aren’t obviously disabled enough to make granting us accommodations a simple or clear decision, people like yourself don’t want us in the normal-people lines either. We want to be in a “special needs” line in part because it allows us to enjoy things we might not be able to access otherwise, but we also want to be in that line so that we don’t have to experience the stares, whispers, complaints, and open mockery that come with standing in line with “normal” families. You judge us for behaving in ways you don’t approve of in the “normal people” line, and then judge us for trying to get special access to we don’t have to deal with your judgement anymore.

        I mean, the other reason I dislike “valid versus invalid disability” arguments is because they pretend like invisible disabilities are the airy-fairy, indefinable, changeable disabilities, whereas physical disabilities are set in stone and easy to identify. Hence the “wheelchairs are obvious, other stuff isn’t” remarks. Wheelchairs aren’t obvious. People use wheelchairs for a ton of different reasons. Just because you can see that someone is in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that you automatically understand their access needs and accommodations, and to assume otherwise is both facile and condescending.

    • Carlee, as a mom of a child who is about to plan her trip to Disney with a Make a Wish coordinator AND not only this sister of an Autistic young man (20) but a teaching assistant to children with Autism ( this year my kids are 3 and 4) years old. I have a question for you….why is my kid the exception? Why are her needs more important than those of an Autistic child? Why does my daughter deserve to be there with no questions asked? Isn’t Disney meant to be a magical experience for kids of all ages, even well into their 80’s!!!??? I am offended and appalled by the reactions of some of these people in reference to this topic. It’s like an elite group of parents with disabled children competing for most deserving of a happy family vacation!!! I have NEVER heard any of my peers with “typical” kids EVER complain about a child with a special need going to the front of the line. It added what? Maybe 2-3 minutes to their wait time? The only people with negative comments are other parents of kids with special needs!!!
      Carlee, do you even have a child with a special need? I can’t even respond anymore for fear of really getting insulting to some of these people and that doesn’t solve anything.

  21. i’m so glad that you all were able to make it work. we did Disney a couple of years ago and are planning to go back. we knew about the previous system and while we didn’t use it, it provided so much reassurance knowing that if my boy couldn’t handle things, that we had a backup to help us to have an enjoyable day.

    as someone else mentioned, i like the spontaneity of going through the park and hopping onto a ride if we wanted to. that spontaneity allows my son to surprised me and decide to go on a ride or participate in an activity that i might not have expected him to be able to handle or that he would expect to be able to handle himself. he’s a very cautious kid and will just not do things if he thinks there’s any chance that he might not be able to. i’m not sure how this new system will work for our family but thank you for sharing your experience so objectively

  22. We were at Disney the week before you got there. It was my kid’s first time and to put it simply, it was chaotic. Luckily, we were able to book most of our Fast Passes in advance but as luck would have it, 2 rides were temporarily closed at MK on different days and it all fell apart after that. As for the DAS pass, we picked one up because my 10 year old son is on the Spectrum. What worked for us was to get it stamped before we used our fast pass at one particular ride (ie. we got the pass stamped for Space Mountain then went on Space Mountain using our fast pass then came out of the ride and used the DAS to go again on Space Mountain again). We did this for most of the roller coasters but of course, there were many hiccups. Unfortunately, I doubt we will go back to Disney due to the wait times. I’m glad we got to go at least once to Disney World!

  23. I love your blog and read all the time. In your note above you make some very good and valid points about why Brooke can’t wait in long lines. I don’t understand why giving the option to wait somewhere else and still come back at a shorter interval than anyone else waiting on line is disappointing. Is it truly not good enough or just not as good as the old way.

    • Beth, as i said in the post, it worked for us (mostly, with a couple of notable exceptions that were REALLY diffciult for Brooke) where she is now, so yes, for US, now, it’s good enough. It’s not easy; it’s not nearly as user friendly as the old pass, but we made it work. But for others, as it wouldn’t have been for us just a short time ago, it might not be enough of an accommodation to make the park accessible. For many kids (and adults in some cases) waiting anywhere for a long period is simply not feasible. In part because of a lack of understanding about time – Brooke does not relate to “in an hour,” no matter how much we try to make it concrete. But yes, as I said, it was enough to make the park accessible for us – now.

  24. I think I understand what Mike is saying – that it’s so difficult for Disney to determine who truly needed the GAC. When we went, we were armed with all sorts of documentation, from his special needs school and his doctor but weren’t asked to show anything. I don’t know if it’s HIPPA confidentiality, but I am not sure why if I am willing to show documentation backing up the need for the GAC why it can’t be accepted, but maybe that’s a whole seperate topic.

    As a parent, I did everything I could to make the trip easier. We didn’t go in the heat of the summer, picked a time of year that would be less crowded, did character meals to meet the important characters so we could avoid waiting in line to see them. We brought our own food to the hotel, brought his iTouch for when he needed breaks. When he could wait in line for rides, we had him wait like everyone else. We went when they had the GAC and it did make a difference for us. We didn’t use it for all the rides, but the times we did, it was a godsend. I didn’t feel like we were “entitled” to anything, but felt like it was a tremendous gift from Disney that it was available. Often times for our kids to experience things, there is an added expense, or we have to scope things out before we go to see if they can handle it. We often have to leave early, even shortly after arrival if it’s overwhelming. The GAC allowed our family to be spontaneous in a way that we are rarely ever able to be. I am glad we had the opportunity to go before they changed the policy. Not only is it one of my son’s happiest memories (he still talks about it 2.5 years later) but we saw him try new things and saw an increase in his language skills after that trip. I think we may make one more trip, but will wait until my son is older.

    • D, you worded it perfectly when you said it was a tremendous gift from Disney. I also believe that most people treated it that way and used it as needed, some probably needed it more than others, but I don’t think it was abused by people who truly were in need of the special accomodations. I have heard tons of people say exactly what you did, they used it when they needed it. I think when your living in a world where spontaneous isn’t always used to describe your day to day life, what a wonderful thing to be able to be just that…spontaneous. To be able to go where you wanted when you wanted without a wait or a schedule, cause God knows we can’t schedule a meltdown!!! Every child DESERVES to be able to go to Disney and come home knowing they were at the happiest place on Earth!!

  25. This has been an interesting topic and got me wondering what WOULD be the best way for Disney to go about it. It sounds like the old way allowed too much abuse, I guess, but the new way, maybe not enough accommodation. I’ve never been to Disney before so the whole thing is kind of abstract to me. I don’t really know how much one is usually able to do in a day or anything like that.

    It’d be cool if Disney could figure out the average number of attractions/rides a person is able to do in a day – both during “peak” season and “off” season. Then, they could offer Disability passes based on that. (And I’m making this up off the top of my head, so if it makes no sense, lol, that’s why). But say during “peak” season, the average person is able to go on 10 rides in the span of a day. Then, they could offer a punch card, if you will, that allowed 10 bypasses of the line. People with disabilities, could of course go on more than 10 rides (by waiting in line), but it would allow them 10 chances (without the line) so they would be afforded the guaranteed opportunity to experience the same number of attractions that the average person is able to experience in the day… .. Essentially, giving them their boxes they need to see over the fence like the others.

    That makes sense in my head, but it also sounds too easy so it’s probably not easy at all. And I guess it could still get abused by people, but maybe not in the fashion as it was originally?

    I have no idea. But I’m glad you all were able to have fun and enjoy yourself, despite the changes to the system! Hopefully it’s a work in progress and they are able to make some changes here and there, as they find out what works, and what needs improving.

    • Amandaj – Amandaj – Your “system” probably wouldn’t work as admission to a Disney Park isn’t based on the number of rides you get to go on and the number of rides any given “average” non-disabled guest gets to go on depends on many factors, not simply the number of people in the park on any day, such as:

      – the popularity of the rides you choose to go on (Soarin’, Cars Racers are among the most popular and have the longest lines)
      – the physical distance between rides and how fast/slow you choose to walk/run to them
      – how many non-ride activities you choose to do (live shows, wandering pavilions at Epcot, etc)
      – where you choose to eat your meals (eating a sandwich while waiting in line vs sit-down lunch at Cinderella’s castle vs signing up for a 1.5 hr character meal)
      – how many hours you choose to spend at the park
      – what hours you choose to spend at the park (you can fit in way more rides if you stay at a Disney Hotel, so you can be admitted an hour before the park opens to the general public)

      Also, the ADA requires that people’s individual disabilities be accommodated — giving all people with disabilities a skip-to-the-front-of-the-line pass for 10 rides doesn’t fit the bill.

      (I took my daughter and niece, who is in a wheelchair, to WDW earlier this year. While we did get a DAS card, we used it maybe twice — pretty much all the rides/lines for the rides were wheelchair-accessible!)

      • Good points. Like I said, I was just thinking off the top of my head. I figured it wouldn’t be a workable, implementable program.

  26. In terms of your advice and experience, how did you feel managing multiple days in a row worked? In other words, ignoring the potential costs, if you did one day on one day off, would have made it feel less like a continual schedule nightmare? Or, are these passes set in such a way that they expire too quickly to work any other way that three, four or five days in a row? Did you try to hit all four (I think it’s four, right?) parks, or concentrate on just one or two? Again, I’m just thinking about schedules and how to make it seem less overwhelming…

    Thanks for sharing your experience and your patience answering questions. It sounds like you made it work and, if you could return, you might have some strategies to use (plus expectations with your daughter would have a space already established).

    • I did multiple days. The pass last as many days as your stay, they will ask you the length and the party size
      Read my comment, it wasn’t a nightmare for my family at all.

    • The passes last for the length of your stay for your entire party or for two weeks if you have an annual pass (at the end of the two weeks, you can get another one). Also, the attraction reservations have a start time, but not an end time so you can go any time after that time. There really isn’t any expiration. The main limitation is that you can only have one ride reserved at a time and can’t get another reservation unless/until you either use the current one or you have the current one crossed out/cancelled because you no longer want it.

  27. My son is autistic and we went to Disney for Easter. I found that the pass is fair and easy to use. I was familiar with the way it worked because they have the same at universal where we been before.
    The my Disney experience just added more to it, so it was even better. They can always work and include the DAS there… of course, but i won’t complain that it’s not there now.
    I think the system is fair. A typical 5 yr old kid also has problems waiting, don’t forget about it… they do tantrums too… is up to the parents to handle the downside. For most of my friends with Neurotypical kids they don’t see their kids going before 8 because of the behaviors.
    This new method would have been the result of other abusing the system, but it’s a fair one. And considering that our community is growing it’s good that we learn to wait. And i mean the parents… if we are calm it will be easier to better our children experience, but if we are overly anxious. .. then we may be the ones affecting the overall result and should keep that in our minds at all times.
    Don’t get discourage by the article, the system is easy and the cast accomodating, if the fastpass lane is short, they will let you in without hesitation. If you missed the hour window, because of the pass they will let you in, if you go to the ride a bit in advance… when your child is getting fuzzy and you explain, they will let you in… it’s a matter of attitude, be positive, smile and enjoy and your experience in life will improve.

    • My parents just returned from Universal with my Autistic brother last Saturday. They said the pass was exactly like the old one at Disney, one of the reasons they chose Universal over Disney this year.

  28. I have also found they system easy to use. The kiosks mentioned in the article are at Disneyland and I like those better, but the Disney World system can work and is not that complicated. Think of the DAS at Disney World like the old FP system. One person in your party has to go to the attraction to reserve a time (just like one person could take everyone’s park tickets to get Fastpasses under the old system). The person who needs the accommodation does not need to go to reserve the attraction time; they only need to be there when the time is “redeemed.” While waiting for the reservation time, one can then visit other attractions for which they have Fastpass+ reservations or which have short lines, eat lunch or get a snack, or whatever they choose to do with that time. No, it’s not as easy as the old system and one person in the party has to do some extra walking to get the DAS times reserved, but it still works.

  29. So, I’d say this is a hypothetical, but well, it’s reality for us come early November when we go to Disney World. Our kids will be 10, 8 and 6 when we go. Currently 5 year old DS is autistic with low tone in his legs and hips, he has had PT since he was in EI at 2 years old. He no longer wears braces, just orthotic inserts for under-pronation (so yeah, invisible). We used a stroller as wheelchair tag last time and a GAC for him but figured that would be the only visit we would need the stroller/wheelchair tag. Unfortunately, he broke his right leg (mid-shaft tibia fx) in April. Re-learning to use the leg will be hard enough, but with the low tone we are looking at continuous PT for quite a while – I’m sure through November. There’s no way he’ll be able to walk for hours at DW. Do we use a stroller as wheelchair again? How is that handled now? Is it the same as before? How do you combine it with the DAS? He needs a few accommodations for his ASD. Our Aspie 10 year old daughter needs only a couple accommodations – she will still need to use the DAS though. I figure at age 10, she can ask for it herself and begin her self-advocacy journey. I’m just wondering how this will all go down…

  30. Thanks for the thoughtful explanation of how the new system works, we are traveling with my autistic cousin this summer and it’s good to know how it works.

  31. Interesting discussion. I have a 3 year old currently going through the process of being diagnosed with Autism. I object strongly to the idea that because his disability isn’t immediately obvious (if you ignore the stimming, the regular banging of his head etc) he is somehow less worthy of being accommodated than a child in a wheelchair. It’s not an argument about my child being more or less worthy, it’s about providing the best that you can for your child. We live in the UK and have been taking Ollie to Legoland, Alton Towers etc. At all of the places we’ve been to we have had to provide proof of his disability I.e. Doctors letters, NHS letters etc. I haven’t just pulled his diagnosis out of my behind, I would rather he was a perfectly ‘normal’ child but that is not his fate. He is special, ever so incredibly special to us and everyone who knows him. He’s not severe but he struggles and I am ever so grateful to be able to let him experience the things that normal children do, that his siblings do. Parents, we shouldn’t be in-fighting, what we should be doing is helping to stop these people abusing the system!!

  32. Is the new pass limited to only the child and 3 companions? We are a family of 5. The original pass allowed at least 5.

  33. Thank you for taking the time to explain the new process as your family used it. It makes me happy that Disney is making accommodations but at the same time a little nervous that our next trip might not be as enjoyable. My child has autism but also has mobility problems and requires use of a push chair often times and has poor stamina because of pulmonary disease. Getting places in a rush are a thing of the past for us. I know we’ll make that trip again and will have a blast but more time planning will be necessary. Thank you again for your insight.

  34. Thanks for this post, we are planning a big trip next year but it’s already giving me a headache! Waiting around in shops (or anywhere) does not sound like a great option to be honest…. maybe some shaded areas where we can let our girl use an ipad while waiting? All seems pretty complicated at the moment 😦

  35. Pingback: My Year of Chasing Joy

  36. “We want to be in a “special needs” line in part because it allows us to enjoy things we might not be able to access otherwise, but we also want to be in that line so that we don’t have to experience the stares, whispers, complaints, and open mockery that come with standing in line with “normal” families. You judge us for behaving in ways you don’t approve of in the “normal people” line, and then judge us for trying to get special access to we don’t have to deal with your judgement anymore.” – emmapretzel


    Also parents who claim it’s unfair to their able bodied & minded children that those with disabilities go ahead. They should kneel and thank God they get to be so privileged as to dictate children with disabilities have to face the literal horror of “normal” people acting in ways towards them that would be seen as child abuse to a NT child. I have a saying, for children with Autism, those situations in horror films where people are terrified out of their minds, that is their reality.

    No it does not mean they should be cured, it means “normal” people should take a step back and realize they’re treating kids with special needs in monsterous ways. Like punishing them for being born differently. Taking away the help they need in the name of their twisted sense of fairness. It’s not fair a child has to wait 20 minutes outside a ride, because “normal” adults pushed and pushed like cranky toddlers to have their sense of fairness honored. I mean, if there ever was a testiment to how people with forms of Autism are far more mature and decent to others than NTs, aside from Autism Speaks, this would be it. They took away the ability of children with disabilities to visit Disney World so they can stand smugly and with the tone of a bratty bully go, “NOW it’s fair!”

    I know, I know divisveness doesn’t help, but I get so mad about this. I mean just, trust me on this, DO NOT go discussing this on Disney online social communities. The justifications and if it weren’t serious ridiculous reasons children with disabilities should put up with this are terrible. Then there are the people who like bratty kids go, “Well then those disabled kids should STAY HOME if they don’t like it?” Seriously, I must be really sheltered because it never occured to me people could be that petty and selfish. These are adults I remind you, not children ADULTS!

    It’s pathetic the whole situation is pathetic. Now disabled people suffer again because these “adults” tantrumed and tantrumed and got their way. Oh and what does this teach their kids? Tantrum hard enough, and pitch a fit long enough and people will give in. How mmmaaagggiiicccaaalll!

    *returns soapbox*

  37. I hope that you send a link to this post to Disney. I hope every single person who uses the new system does that. Hopefully Disney will read and tweak it to make it better.
    We had our first magical trip to Disney in 2013 using the GAC and are heading back to Disney in September 2014 and will give the DAS a try. I’ve done a lot of reading to be prepared. I’ve also been prepping myself because I know I’ll be disappointed, it will be hard and different and not at all the Disney we first met last year 😦

  38. I was just happened to come across this after i read an article on yahoo. My friends brother is autistic. I read comments about whats “fair”, the GAC was flawed and I think that the DAS does not go far enough to help all people with disabilities. I would make the DAS give the person with the diabilty and only two other companions(if you have more than 3 people in your party and they do not have any disabilities they can wait like everyone else) the ability to wait in two lines at a time, give them three fast passes(per person) for any ride that can be used at any time and the ability to use the regular fastpass like normal. I want people with disabilities to have as good a time or better than us able bodied people. I think people got tired of seeing a person in a wheelchair with 12 plus people just skip every line in the park especially since Disney has seen its attendance grow every year. *sorry for any spelling errors I wrote this at 2:30am on my phone.

  39. I’m not sure if this is covered in the comments above–but the Disney website discusses that they will strive to meet unique needs such as people who can only spend a short time in the park and I assume people who may (for example) want to ride the same thing over and over.

    Click to access dlr-disability-access-service_2014-11-19.pdf

    I would suggest printing that out and bringing it along for future trips. Here’s the paragraph that caught my eye:

    “What if a Guest is concerned that DAS doesn’t meet their needs? Guests with additional questions should discuss them with Guest Relations. For general Disney Parks have long recognized and accommodated Guests with varying needs and will continue to work individually with Guests with disabilities to provide assistance that is responsive to their specific circumstances. In unique situations, our Guest Relations staff will discuss special accommodations for persons who are concerned DAS doesn’t meet their needs (e.g., those whose disability limits the duration of their visit to the park or limits their choice of attractions). All accommodations will be made in person, on site at Guest Relations.”

    Shannon Rosa was at Disneyland recently and I was at Disneyland yesterday and the system is still evolving there.

    Shannon: http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2014/11/one-autistic-teens-disneyland-success.html

    I will write up our experiences and link to here soon.

  40. Hi there,
    We will be bringing our 14 month old to Disney. He has a brain injury from birth and is mostly mildly affected, but the only accommodation we feel like we need is that he doesn’t walk yet (therefore needs a stroller of some kind) and he has (mild) sensory processing disorder but will NOT sit in a stroller or baby carrier. I’ve tried a million things and the only thing he’ll tolerate is a wagon. I asked Disney for a special allowance to bring a wagon and they said absolutely not. I guess I can’t decide if we should try to get a DAS card or not. He’s only “as bad” at waiting in lines as every other 14 month old, but if I can’t sit him in anything the whole trip it’s going to be miserable. Any thoughts? 😦

    • What about getting one of those motorized scooters that you see all over Disney? Maybe he’d ride on it with you? (Disclaimer / I’m just brainstorming and have no idea if that’s feasible or safe.)

    • How about one of those fabric fold-up wagons? I saw a special value on QVC last week (I think it was last week), and know it will hold 150 lbs., but I’m not sure if it is child safe. Maybe they will allow it if it is fabric and folds up into its own carrying case? It folds up fairly small and the wheels lock. Not sure what their issue(s) with a wagon is.

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