Back in May of 2013 when news broke that rich folks were paying disabled “tour guides” to help them skip waiting in line, there was understandably an uproar. The bad press for Disney made national headlines both in mainstream media outlets as well as Disney fan sites and discussion boards.

Many people were upset that “the one percent” thought that they were above the requirement to wait in line like everyone else. Other people, some of whom were disabled, were upset because it felt like rich people were taking advantage of disabled people, or that the big controversy would eventually ruin the special processes that Disney has put into place to accommodate those with disabilities.

Disney is now getting ready to implement new procedures for dealing with people who have special needs. It is set to begin on October 9, 2013, and it may generate more controversy.

Line skipping is not automatic with the new Disabled Assistance System.

Line skipping is not automatic with the new Disabled Assistance System.

In the past, people with special needs could go to Guest Services and explain their accommodation request for their special need. For example, maybe the guest needed to sit in the front of the auditorium to see a show. A frequent request is that they aren’t able to stand in lines for long periods of time. They would request a Guest Assistance Card to deal with their needs. Often that meant that they, and their entire traveling party, skipped the standard lines.

Sadly, some people abused the system.

Disney is now planning to replace the current Guest Assistance Card procedures for dealing with special needs and waiting in lines with a new set of procedures called the Disabled Assistance System (DAS).

How The New Disabled Assistance System (DAS) Will Work

Guests who need a special accommodation will still need to begin their day by going to Guest Services to request a Disabled Assistance System (DAS) Card. Disney will take their photo and put it on the card to ensure only the person who initially requested the card ends up using it. DAS cards will be valid for only one day, so people who need them will need to get a new one for each day they visit a Disney park.

Disney will set up kiosks around the park where people with special needs can go. The Disney Cast Member will give the person a return time when they can get on a particular attraction. The return time will be dependent on the wait time for the standby line. At the appointed time, the person goes to the attraction and experiences it without waiting in line.

Disabled Assistance System Vs. FastPass

In one sense this new Disabled Assistance System is a lot like FastPass in that the person with special needs gets an appointed return time and doesn’t have to wait in the queue line at the attraction itself.  Also, just like with FastPass you can have only one DAS return scheduled at a time.

The DAS process seems to be different than FastPass in that it is not constrained by a capped availability. For example, the FastPasses for Toy Story Mania are often completely distributed and no longer available by the early morning time. At that point, it is no longer possible to get a FastPass for that attraction because the day’s allocation, based on the ride’s capacity, is gone. However, you could still wait in the standby line. In the same way, it seems that you could still get a DAS for Toy Story Mania late in the day, but you would only be able to return to experience the attraction after you waited the same amount of time that was required for the standby line. You just wait wherever you want instead of waiting in the queue at the attraction.

No Proof Required

Just as it was under the old Guest Assistance Card (GAC), the new Disabled Assistance System (DAS) system will not require that guests requesting accommodations to provide proof of their disability. Reports quote Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown as saying, “Due to confidentiality laws, we’re limited in the information we can ask.”

Personally, I understand that to mean that Disney doesn’t intend to get into the potential litigious business of reviewing and accessing medical records – and dealing with all the potentially difficult and confidential issues that might arise. Makes sense.

No Change For Make A Wish

Make-A-Wish is a foundation that grants wishes to children who are diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. Many of those children request a trip to Disney World and stay at the Give Kids The World Village. Currently, Make-A-Wish children visiting Disney get an unlimited FastPass, so that they don’t have to wait in long lines. That process will continue even under the new Disabled Assistance System.

More Controversy

According to reports, anthropologist Wednesday Martin, who helped break the original story about the abuses with the original Guest Assistance Card system, is not sure that the new system is truly a fix. She said, “…the park’s ‘solution’ penalizes disabled children and adults, who were supposed to be served by the policy in the first place, by revoking their ability to go to the front of the line.”

A statement from Autism Speaks, a science and advocacy organization, mentions that Disney reached out to the organization in designing the new plan. Since people with autism often can’t wait in lines, the new policy may especially impact them. The statement also mentioned that the organization believes that Disney’s MyMagic / NextGen Program, which allows scheduling events in advance, “is the best hope for the future.”

Should Disney make disabled guests wait for attractions?