Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS): First-hand experience & in-depth analysis of the new system

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As promised, my family and I were at Epcot when the new Disability Access Service (DAS) card rolled out Wednesday, October 9. Over the last few days I have been in contact with others in the disabled community to see how their first contact visits with Guest Relations progressed. Below I will explain the new pass as well as provide my initial experiences and my analysis. As I’ve mentioned in my previous article, Disney’s new accessibility program was initiated to address the pervasive abuse of the Guest Assistance Card (GAC) system.

 

How the Disability Access Service (DAS) card works

The disabled person should go to their selected park’s Guest Relations office to ask for the DAS.

Those with mobility issues who do not already have a wheelchair or ECV (Electric Conveyance Vehicle/scooter) will be asked to acquire one — unless they have another need that falls under the DAS, these guests will not be issued the card without a wheelchair or ECV.

After a picture of the disabled guest is taken, it is printed on the card (still good for up to six people in your party), signed and dated by the individual or parent/guardian. On the back are spaces for ride wait times, enough to cover all four parks. You can get a new card if your spaces are filled. They are good for the length of your stay, or for Annual Pass holders, 14 days. However, you will still need to go to Guest Relations in each park you visit on subsequent days to ask for the accommodations your family member requires. The picture and information will remain in Disney’s database.

Walt Disney World's Disability Access Service card - 2013.

You will then show the DAS to a Disney cast member (CM) at each attraction. If the attraction standby line is 10 minutes or less, and you have no wait time on the card and you will be able to ride immediately. If the wait time is over 10 minutes, the CM will assign a return time on the back of the DAS card based on the current standby wait. Your reservation is good until you return to redeem it. You can only have one DAS wait time at a time, but you can choose to go on a ride with a 10 minute wait between reservations. If you choose to do this, you must use the standby or wheelchair specific entrance. Note: the DAS can be used at the Princess Fairytale Hall, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and indoor character meet and greets (these were not previously available with the GAC).

You can also obtain FastPasses, including FastPass+, for any participating attraction, and use these in conjunction with your DAS card to reduce your overall wait times throughout the day.

These are the Terms and Conditions as printed on the card:

  • Your scheduled return time does not provide immediate access upon your return.
  • Disney FASTPASS service is a separate service and may be used in conjunction with this service.
  • Park and attraction hours are subject to change without notice.
  • Attractions may close without notice.
  • Not valid for admission to any Theme Park, experience, service or faculty.
  • All Guests must meet boarding requirements.
  • When utilizing this service, it is possible to experience waits greater than the posted wait time.

Disney’s new Disability Access Service is designed for guests who are unable to tolerate extended waits due to disability. In theory, this service allows guests to schedule a return time reservation that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction.

 

DAS pros & cons

In addition to our day in Epcot, I have been in touch with others in the cognitively disabled community, reading and listening to all their comments about their first day and subsequent visits. Here are some pros and cons of the new system:

Initial request for DAS

Be prepared to advocate for yourself or your child/family member.

I must have said “she’s Down Syndrome with Autistic tendencies” 20 times to the first cast member we encountered. Other moms reported that they were asked about needed accommodations immediately! It took us almost an hour and had to speak to three CMs before we finally received a few FPs and other tickets to allow our daughter the one accommodation she needs – accelerated access, which we were provided with when using the old GAC system. (Due to my daughter’s lower than normal cognitive skills, she has never been able to comprehend “wait”.)

As I’ve learned, the initial request process is inconsistent across the four parks, sometimes from day to day in just one park. Cast members have an iPad that they use to unobtrusively take the picture of the disabled (or the picture of the parent if you do not want your child’s picture taken). Eventually all the information is going to be in the Disney computers, so you’ll just have to show the picture ID that was initially used and the special needs should be there for the CM. One mom told me her son’s information was there when she went to Animal Kingdom several days later; another mom told me her information was not at Epcot, and she had to go through everything a second time.

Mobility issues and the DAS

If you have your own wheelchair (or ECV/scooter) and don’t have any other physical/mental medical impairments, you don’t need to get a DAS and can bypass Guest Relations. I was told this includes guests with back and knee problems, broken bones and muscular diseases. You will be able to obtain return time tickets from any ride with wheelchair-only entrances without showing a DAS card. However, you will still have to wait the length of the standby queue less 10 minutes. You can utilize the regular FASTPASS system while you are waiting and that won’t take away your return time ticket.

Wait times at the attractions

All guests, including the physically/mentally disabled, will now wait the amount of time posted at the entrance to each attraction, minus ten minutes.

One could explain that this is a “pro” to non-disabled guests who have never felt it right that those with disabilities used the FastPass lines with the GAC. On the other hand, I believe this is a “con” for disabled guests. When we come back to a given attraction to use our reservation time, our wait will most likely be longer because, when we return, we have to also stand in the FP line. In practice this means that disabled guests will often wait longer than those in the standby lines. In other words, not only will the wait in the FP line possibly add the 10 minutes back that was initially deducted when a reservation time was assigned, we will have to wait with all the regular FP guests arriving to the queue at the same time. That’s the reason for the bulleted item on the cards above.

What to do while waiting

If you have a considerably long wait for the next attraction for which you’ve been given a reservation time, you can check the My Disney Experience mobile app to see what rides are 10 minutes or less. (Note: at SeaWorld that time is 20 minutes or less, and at Universal Orlando it’s 30 minutes or less.) You can also use available FastPasses. Unfortunately, tracking down rides with less than 10 minute wait times or looking for FastPass machines both require extra walking and park crisscrossing. With my own physical disability, this is just not possible.

Disney wants you to get a snack, take in a show, watch a parade or shop while you are waiting. For those of us with a child/adult in the ASD and like disorders, they sometimes are not comfortable with many of these activities (except eating, and even that is difficult for us), and extra planning and organization is going to be required. Surely it is doable, but once again, it’s going to be more stress on the parents. Of course, non-disabled people seem to think that’s fair, even though their families have a world of opportunities available to them away from the parks; for us personally, the parks have been our respite in a world that is anything but inclusive for our daughter.

 

DAS: An assessment of the initial rollout

The inconsistencies with procedures among the CMs from park to park and ride to ride are the biggest problem that I’ve found with the new system. My experiences and what I’ve read so far shows me that the CMs have been mostly denying the needs of the disabled (as they were directed), even though Meg Crofton, Disney’s President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, wrote in a September 30 letter to several Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) bloggers, “We will continue to work individually with our guests with disabilities to provide assistance that is responsive to their unique circumstances.

This brings me to another point: However unhappy you may be with these changes, don’t take it out on the front-line cast members. They didn’t make the changes, Disney leadership did — take it to them (let me know if you need email addresses, contact information, etc.).

All in all, for the DAS to work as a complete system, it’s going to take a lot more work, preparation and redirection from parents/caregivers. I don’t think the parks’ personnel have yet seen many meltdowns because, with the old GAC system, we were given strong tools to keep them at bay. Going forward, provided “quiet places” most likely will be anything but quiet. We are trying to be patient and positive in making this new system work, but it’s going to add more stress for the person who is the main caregiver for the child/adult. In our daughter’s case, I don’t know what we’ll do as we’ve already been through 25 years, 50+ teachers and therapists, and we still can’t get her to learn the skill of “wait”.

 

I know Disney is only trying to weed out the abusers, but in doing so they’ve yet to see how they are making disabled families feel unwanted. Not only is the new Disability Access Service more work for us, it’s more work for the CMs: more paperwork, more tension with guests, more of their time trying to solve problems.  The GAC worked so well for those who truly needed it. In my opinion, Disney should have developed a system to track down the offenders, not implemented an entirely new system for those who have a real need for accommodations.

 

DISCLAIMER: Neither the author of this post nor any of us here at Orlando Informer are official representatives of any theme park in Orlando. While we work diligently to provide you with the very best advice from our collective expertise and experience, it is still your responsibility to verify your plans with each theme park. Thanks for your understanding!

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25 Comments on "Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS): First-hand experience & in-depth analysis of the new system"

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Debi Rieser Dame
Guest

To begin with, we never cut the lines – ever. We waited with everyone else in the FP lines!

OhYeah
Guest

@Debi Rieser Dame 
Using the Fast Pass line or alternate entrance for every ride  instead of waiting for a Fast Pass time or the standby line IS cutting the line.

diane in austin
Guest

OhYeah the gac was never an immediate front of the line pass.  if it was, that would have been “cutting the line”.  that accommodation is only available to make a wish guests.  the gac was an accommodation for cognitively/emotionally/physically disabled guests to wait in shorter lines.  and i wonder oh yeah, did you personally check each person in fast pass return lines to see if they were fast pass returns or gac users?  I wonder due to the tone of your replies, if your disney experiences were so consistently negatively impacted by gac users?

OhYeah
Guest
diane in austin OhYeah  Waiting 15  minutes in the Fast Pass line while non-GAC holders are waiting an hour is cutting the line, period.  And yes, my family has been negatively impacted by GAC users that cut in front of everyone else and ride multiple times.  That kind of abuse makes the line longer for everyone. And I’m still waiting for anyone that can explain to me why the difficulties of every day life should have anything whatsoever do to with your experience in the park.  Your life is hard every day, so you should be able to make everyone else… Read more »
OrlandoInformer
Guest

OhYeah Just for the record, as the moderator I’m now about 90 percent certain you’re just trolling this post. If you want your comments to stay on here, please contact me http://bit.ly/oicontact.

OhYeah
Guest

OrlandoInformer OhYeah 
No problem, I’ll be filling out a contact form shortly.  
I do find it interesting that only someone that disagrees with the policy is being called out as a troll.

OrlandoInformer
Guest

OhYeah I think you’re trolling precisely because of statements like that. You know I’m not labeling you as such not because you disagree, but rather I do so strictly because of how you phrase your statements and engage other readers. 
I’m not going to write anymore about it here because, as someone who’s likely trolling, you’re not actually looking for a conversation  — you just want me to react, and I don’t really have time right now.

diane in austin
Guest
OhYeah diane in austin “Waiting 15  minutes in the Fast Pass line while non-GAC holders are waiting an hour is cutting the line, period.” so everyone in a fast pass return line, gac users and fast pass holders alike are cutting in line? So there should be no fast passes because those who haven’t obtained one get a shorter wait than those guests who did not?  or do you divide those who have obtained fast passes from disabled guests who utilized the GAC? As to your statement ” I’m still waiting for anyone that can explain to me why the difficulties… Read more »
Cassy
Guest

I usually enjoy reading your articles, but I was a bit surprised by this statement:
“Of course, non-disabled people seem to think that’s fair, even though their families have a world of opportunities available to them away from the parks; for us personally, the parks have been our respite in a world that is anything but inclusive for our daughter.”
I guess someone was having a bad day when she wrote this. A bit judgemental, don’t you think?

OhYeah
Guest

@Cassy
I agree – not even a relevant point to the discussion.
Also, “I must have said “she’s Down Syndrome with Autistic tendencies”   The CMs aren’t doctors, giving them a diagnosis is pointless.  They have to know what the “needs” are.  Of course, stating that the “need” is immediate access to the attraction with no wait is most likely, and correctly, going to be a non-starter.

Michael Aaron Futterman
Guest
Michael Aaron Futterman

Not u other people were abusing the dos by hiring a person with disabilities to cut lines

OhYeah
Guest

@Michael Aaron Futterman 
It wasn’t just the fact that the rich were hiring disabled “guides” – that was a very small thing, numbers wise.  The bigger issue was the sheer numbers of people using the GAC and receiving near FOTL access due to the unlimited fast pass nature of the GAC.

Debra Lynn
Guest

Does Disney have any rides with nonlinear queues (like Men in Black or Shrek or Poseidon at Universal, where they pack many people in a small space to deliver a lecture before boarding the ride)? I’m curious if Disney’s new pass would let those who use it skip that part.

OhYeah
Guest

It’s a shame that you’re deleting comments that don’t agree with your opinion.

OrlandoInformer
Guest

I don’t delete comments I disagree with. Rather, because our system imports comments written on Facebook, and because some comments on Facebook don’t necessarily make sense or add to the conversation (for example, when one person leaves a Facebook comment simply to tag another person by name), I remove these so as to present real statements without additional clutter.

OhYeah
Guest

OrlandoInformer
Hmm…because the comment below was deleted…perhaps because it was in response to one of the Facebook posts?

“It wasn’t just the fact that the rich were hiring disabled “guides” – that was a very small thing, numbers wise.  The bigger issue was the sheer numbers of people using the GAC and receiving near FOTL access due to the unlimited fast pass nature of the GAC. “

OrlandoInformer
Guest

OhYeah I see that now. Yes, I suppose LiveFyre removed your reply comment because I removed the Facebook comment to which you were replying. In any case, I’ve restored the Facebook comment, so now your original reply comment can be viewed.

OhYeah
Guest
So, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard regarding the DAS is that it only allows a guest to have one “active” attraction at a time.  Disney could fix this fairly easily while still retaining the wait requirement by simply starting the next wait time at return time of the previous attraction on the list. Say you want to ride Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Current time is 10:00 AM, and the current wait for the rides are 45, 35, 60 and 75 minutes, respectively.  Your DAS would have return times of… Read more »
Chris
Guest
Like some other comments below, as someone who is not disabled I was a bit offended by the article and disappointed by what I interpreted as quite judgemental and preachy attitude to people who do not identify as disabled.  I think the accusation that “the CMs have been mostly denying the needs of the disabled (as they were directed)” would be hyberpole.  I also think writing a negative review of any new system based on experiences of the first day is a cheap trick as many new systemswill have bugs to iron out. I’m new to the OrlandoInformer and have… Read more »
OrlandoInformer
Guest

@Chris I won’t try to change your mind, as you and debi are each entitled to your opinions. I only want to say that I think we who are not disabled have an incredible challenge trying to understand the magnitude of Disney’s recent changes for those who have family members with cognitive disabilities, and for whom the magic of Walt Disney World was accessible, even enjoyable, using the old system.

OhYeah
Guest

OrlandoInformer Disney is still accessible, just not the way Debi and some others would like it to be.  After years of skipping lines, thus making the wait times longer for anyone that didn’t possess the magic GAC, too many people feel that they are entitled to this type of privileged access.

Well, they’re not, and I’m glad that Disney has finally acted in a meaningful way.

OrlandoInformer
Guest

OhYeah We definitely see the issue through two different lenses. Makes me wonder in what ways our life experiences have been so different.

Cassy
Guest

To be perfectly clear, I sympathize with disabled people and their families. My mother worked as a home health aid assisting people with disabilities so I was exposed to this at a young age. My only complaint on this article was that Debi implies that essentially everyone who is not disabled was “against ” them or perhaps looks down on them. I don’t believe that it is right to judge everyone by the actions of a few people.

OhYeah
Guest

@Cassy I also sympathize with disabled people and their families.  My gripe is the idea that because their lives are rough, they undoubtedly are, that Disney owes them privileged access.
There should be no issue with waiting, so long as they don’t have to wait in the actual line.

OrlandoInformer
Guest

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