Disney and the Demise of the Guest Assistance Card
The internet is blowing up with the news that as of October 9th, Disney World, Disneyland and Disney California Adventures will no longer offer the Guest Assistance Card program. This is the program traditionally used by families of guests with special needs, whether it be a child with Autism or a grandparent in a wheelchair. Unlike the popular Fast Pass program, the GAC allowed a visitor to use the Fast Pass line or a separate entrance to a ride without having a set time to return. They could just show up whenever they wanted to ride like everyone else does. Now, with the new Disabled Assistance System, visitors with needs will have to follow the more traditional Fast Pass rules, getting an assigned time to ride a ride vs. just showing up and waiting in the Fast Pass line whenever they were ready.
Since we’re going to Disney World in November, and since Max has special needs, I am paying attention to this. When my family decided to go to Disney, we did a LOT of research. We had to consider weather, crowds, school schedules and cost. Max has trouble when it’s really hot (until this past summer he didn’t sweat) and excessive heat can be a seizure trigger for him. He also gets overwhelmed in large crowds, especially when he’s in a stroller and can only see a sea of legs and bodies around him. Stress and anxiety are seizure triggers for him. He misses a good chunk of his classroom time while he’s out of the room receiving services, so we wanted to choose a time of year where things are more quiet and he wouldn’t miss too much. We also wanted to go before his brother starts Kindergarten next September.
Even after booking our trip, we continued to consider whether or not we’d use the Guest Assistance Card with Max. The reason I was hesitating was because of stories I was hearing about people hiring people with disabilities to accompany them on trips so they could use the card and essentially scam the system and cut in line. I couldn’t believe that there were people who would do that (both parties, both those that hired, and those that were hired). It also made me fear for what people would think and say if we chose to use the GAC system. Max’s needs are not always obvious. Sometimes he’s able to wait and sometimes he melts down. Sometimes he flaps his hands and screams, sometimes he can be entertained. Sometimes the noise of a crowd can be deadening for him and sometimes he’s fine. One never knows. We decided to get the card, but thought we’d only use it if we felt we really needed it.
There are many, many, many blog posts being written about this change. People are passionate about Disney and about their children so you can imagine that some of the discussions are heated. What’s really surprising many of us in the Special Needs community however is how obvious it is that we still have a long way to go regarding acceptance of our children. People are saying left and right that we shouldn’t be taking our kids to Disney if they can’t handle waiting in line. People are saying that if they can control their kids in line, we should be able to do the same. For a second, I agreed with them. I actually hesitated and thought maybe we should cancel our trip. But then I read something from a friend asking if those of us with children who need accommodations should stay home and only do things like grocery shop or go to the park in the dead of night when our kids wouldn’t disrupt the experience of others. She asked why her daughter who was constantly going to the doctor and therapy or being denied a treat because it didn’t fit in her medically-required diet shouldn’t get to experience “the happiest place on Earth”. It turned my thinking around. She is right. Max should get to go to Disney World. We will do our best to accommodate him on our own and help him to not disturb the experience of others, just as we will his brother and cousins, but are grateful for any effort from Disney and the other guests to help us out.
I think this is a wonderful way to explain all of this. I’m not sure where this originated from so if you know, please comment and I’ll give due credit.
There were 3 boys who wanted to watch a baseball game. One boy could easily see over the fence. One boy could almost see over the fence but still too short to see over the fence and the third boy was way too short to see over the fence. Someone had dropped off 3 wooden crates. Fairness would say each boy has equal access to each crate but logic would state the the tall boy doesn’t need a crate because he can already see over the fence. The middle sized boy only needs one crate but the short boy needs two crates, thus creating an environment where they are all equal height and see the game.
This world shouldn’t be about being fair and equal to everyone. The world should be about leveling the playing field so everyone has an equal chance.