When I heard that Disney was changing their policy for those with disabilities a while back I was very concerned. Like so many others, we went to Disney World year after year because the policy made vacationing with our autistic son possible.
Before this trip, I did extensive reading online about how this new policy worked and about the experiences of those who had already used it. The reviews were mixed. There are many different types of disabilities and challenges so I suppose that should be expected. It worked for some and didn’t work for others.
In general, it did work for us.
When you go to the customer service desk at any one of the parks, they issue you a Disability Access Service card. This DAS card is good for the length of your stay. The valid dates, number in your party as well as the name and a photo of the person with the disability is digitally printed on the front of the card.
You can’t use the card to board a ride unless the person on the card is with you. This is a change from the old system and I can see why some might be upset about the change. This trip we were only traveling with Adrian so it didn’t affect us. However, in years past we did use the disability card to allow the other kids to ride rides that Adrian didn’t want to go on. Perhaps some would call that ‘cheating’ the system but you have to remember that Adrian’s disability meant that we could only stay in the parks for a short time before he needed a break. It was beat the clock each and every time we entered a park. If the other kids had any hope at all of riding on things without Adrian, we had to use the pass to get them in and out quickly. Adrian could not wait. Leaving only one parent with him, wandering in circles for as long as the standby line took would have ended in disaster.
The thing you have to remember about the new DAS card is that it’s designed to be used in conjunction with the FassPass+ system. If you are not using the FP+ system then it’s likely you will find the DAS card policy severely limiting. If we were to travel with the whole family today we’d have to rely on the FP+ system to get them in and out of rides Adrian doesn’t like. It would require a bit more planning and be a little less convenient… but I don’t see it as a complete deal breaker and I won’t say that it’s not ‘fair’.
Another big change in the policy is that the DAS card does not provide immediate access. Under the old disability policy you simply showed the card at the ride and were directed to the ‘disability entrance’. In some cases this was a separate, wheel-chair friendly entrance but for some rides it was the FassPass line. It was this part of the old policy that lead to abuse by unscrupulous people and the need to switch to the DAS card system.
Again, I understand how some people are upset by the new system. It is less convenient. With the DAS card you have to take it to the ride entrance to get it stamped and they write a return time on the card. In other words, you wait as long as the folks on the stand-by line… you just wait some where else. Actually, that’s not true. You sometimes wait longer because when you do return you still have to wait on the FP+ line.
This trip, Adrian was able to handle going up to a ride and then coming back later. When he was younger, he couldn’t have handled it. One of us would have had to go get the stamp while the other took Adrian in a different direction. You can only have one active stamp at a time so I understand why some people may be particularly upset about this part of the policy. While it would be extra work, I still don’t think that even back in the day it would have made it impossible for us to visit. And I wouldn’t say it’s not ‘fair’.
The last major change with this policy is that when you return at the time written on your card, in almost every case, you will enter the FP+ line. Disney has done a great job making most of the queues accessible. There are very few rides left that require a separate wheelchair entrance. The down side here is that the FP+ line is a line. With everyone using the FP+ system now, it’s not a ‘walk on’ line any more. Though minimal, there is some waiting. It’s probably this part, more than any other, that I think would have tripped us up back in the day.
Of course, we didn’t have iPods, iPads or phones all connected to the internet back then either. We didn’t find the waiting that hard this time because we had the wheelchair and we did use an iPod to keep him entertained while we waited. With this policy, I will never take Adrian without using a wheelchair. Even today he could not handle waiting like that without the wheelchair and something to entertain him.
All things considered, I think the new policy is well thought out and should work to accommodate most people. One of the things I love about Disney is that, almost without exception, the employees are very accommodating. It happened more than once that they bent the rules a bit. Some wrote down a slightly reduced wait time on our card. Others let us enter the FP+ line a few minutes ahead of the scheduled time.
I’m aware of additional accommodations some people have received as well. A woman who had an autistic child went out of her way to tell me that I should go to customer service and demand generic, paper fastpasses. We didn’t find this necessary this trip. But I can see that as something some folks may need. I’ve also read online that if your child has a compulsive need to ride a ride multiple times in a row, that they will often allow that.
I still think Disney World is a great place to go if you have a family member with autism but there is some preparation and work involved to make things go smoothly. My advice is to go at the least busy time of year, use the FP+ system in conjunction with the DAS card, bring enough help and electronic entertainment, consider using a wheelchair and if you have a specific need, it never hurts to ask a cast member or two for help.