There has been a lot of speculation and concern about upcoming changes to the Guest Assistance Card that is to be replaced with a new system on October 9, 2013. The abuse of the system has been generally recognized by both cast members and regular visitors to the Disneyland Resort but was brought to the public eye when The Today Show went undercover to explore this abuse. This led to public outrage and now, change. As of October 9, the Guest Assistance Card program will no longer exist in its current form. It will be replaced by a new program that is being called the Disability Access Service Card. The exact details have not been released by the Disneyland Resort officially. When DAPs Magic reached out to Disneyland, this was the statement that was given by representative Erin Glover for the Disneyland Resort:
We have an unwavering commitment to making our parks accessible to all guests. Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing accommodations for guests with disabilities.
The Need for A Disability Assistance Program:
According to a study** by Cornell University in 2011, 12.1% (plus or minus 0.05 percentage points) of all people in the USA have a reported (non institutionalized) disability. The United States Census Bureau defines a disability as: “People 5 years old and over are considered to have a sensory, physical, mental, or self-care disability if they have one or more of the following: (a) blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment; (b) a substantial limitation in the ability to perform basic physical activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying; (c) difficulty learning, remembering, or concentrating; or (d) difficulty dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home.”
Simply put, roughly 1 out of 10 people have a disability of some kind. This is a significant demographic of the population. Guests with disabilities want to visit the happiest place on earth just like everyone else. For some, this is the only happy place they have on earth as they face some real struggles in life. It can truly be the only way they can leave behind the troubles they face world for a short time and feel loved and valued. Spend some time people watching at Disneyland and it quickly becomes apparent that Disneyland does a fantastic job caring for those with special needs. These are little moments and experiences that aren’t expected, planned, or paid for. Instead, it is daily kindness being shown by the rank and file cast members to the child with down syndrome, the teen with autism, the blind elderly gentleman, or a make-a-wish* child. Every day, Disney cast members make the magic happen to thousands of people, regardless of their situation in life.
The Walt Disney Company has worked hard through the years to provide an environment that is magical to those with disabilities. For guests visiting a Disney theme park in the USA, Disney has created a webpage with resources to help make the experiences as magical as possible. It can be found here. Through the years Disneyland has continued to update queues, walkways, restrooms, and other locations/experiences to be more accommodating to those with special needs. They have even created special access gates for service animals needing to relieve themselves. Their record has been consistent and clear. People have needs when visiting their favorite Disney Theme Park (or even cruise line) and Disney has done a fantastic job of accommodating them.
Tips for Guests Visiting Disneyland with a Disability:
If you or your loved one is someone who is going to visit a Disney theme park with a disability, there a few simple tip to ensure a magical trip. These are not in any particular order and should all be considered when planning your next trip to Disneyland.
- Research – When booking your trip, call the Disney Resort you are going to visit and find out what the park/hotel/cruise line has to accommodate a specific need. Some of this can be done also through the Disney Guest with Disabilities website.
- Plan – There are certain times that are better or worse to go to a Disney theme park, depending on what needs are valued. Know that some seasons will have different offerings, lights, entertainment, crowds, and weather. As you are researching, take these things into account so that you can make a plan that will allow your party to have the most fun.
- Communicate – Communication is key. Disney is all about making magic and they will do their best to make every trip magical. Check with Disneyland (City Hall on Main Street, USA) or Disney California Adventure (Chamber of Commerce on Buena Vista Street) Guest Relations at the beginning of your visit for advice and guidance about how you can have the best visit possible. Before your visit, you can email Disneyland through the contact us link on disneyland.com and ask questions. Or you can also find information to call on these contact pages. If staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels, they may be able to help as well.
- Recognize – Recognize that the Walt Disney Company is constantly striving to improve the guest experience for all guests. It is constantly getting refined and enhanced to make your experience (and everyone else’s) better. Every guests is equally important to the Walt Disney Company and any current or future changes to policy will reflect that philosophy.
- Be Patient – Recognize that everyone at Disney is a human being. They will do their best to make your trip magical but to err is human. Cast members aren’t perfect. Your fellow guests aren’t perfect.
- Show Grace – There are thousands of people visiting Disney at the same time as you. Every person there has been told that it’s time to “celebrate you.” Every person there wants to have an absolutely fantastic trip, just like you do. After all, it’s expensive! Disney is doing its best to ensure that everyone gets exactly that. To do so, they have created policies in procedures that ideally makes every person’s trip equally valuable. Recognize, you are no less or more valuable than any other guest coming to Disneyland. Imperfect policies and procedures plus imperfect people mean that mishaps will happen. It is just part of the Disney experience.
- Be Positive! – Disneyland is only as magical as you allow it to be. Make it an amazing and magical experience!
- Don’t Get Angry, Get Proactive – If something does happen that isn’t perfect, don’t get angry. It really won’t help anything. Instead, go back to tip number two. Calmly communicate the concern with Disney (most likely at Guest Relations) so that they can work to better the system. Do not expect to get anything in return. Instead, expect to help be a part of the solution and not the problem.
- Give Thanks! – Did you know you can give positive feedback about cast members who do a fantastic job? Go to guest relations and give thanks to them for a job well done. So often it is so easy to get caught up with all the craziness of kids, other guests, exciting music, bright lights, incredible attractions, not so incredible lines, that we forget that there are people behind all the magic and those people love to be thanked. So… thank them every chance you get! Thank them when they help you. Thank them when they are just doing their job (yes, it may be their job but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be appreciated!). Thank them when they go above and beyond their job. And then go ahead to Guest Relations and thank them there as well. Positive words of thanks can really go so much further in making things better int he world than negative.
- Share! – Share these tips with other people. If enough people can abide by these tips, maybe this article could really make a positive difference. Everyone wants to have a good time at Disneyland no matter what their life situation is. Let’s help everyone achieve that goal, what do you think?
For nearly 60 years, Disneyland has been billed as the happiest place on Earth. The powers that be at Disneyland, and throughout the Walt Disney Company, are continuing to diligently work to keep it magical for all who come to this happy place. As more information becomes available about the upcoming changes for guests with disabilities visiting Disneyland, we will post them on DAPs Magic. Just recognize that whatever system is put in place will be flawed and sadly people will attempt to exploit it. Recognize though that the system is constantly being worked on to accommodate all guests and create a magical experience for all and not just some. Disney will continue to hone and polish the system until it is perfected and all can have a magical trip to the Disneyland Resort.
*For guests visiting Disneyland with Make-A-Wish, contact Make-A-Wish directly with questions about your visit and the special needs that are being addressed for it. It is my understanding that Make-A-Wish will now be covered in a different program than the Disability Access Service Card.
**Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2013). Disability Statistics from the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved Sep 23, 2013 from www.disabilitystatistics.org