Editor’s note: On September 17, 2013, MiceAge reported that Disney’s Guest Assistance Card (GAC) program will end on October 8, and the newly developed Disabled Assistance System (DAS) will take its place beginning October 9. The GAC program allowed visitors with physical and mental impairment to qualify for special, immediate access to any attraction at any time, bypassing lines. Abuse of the GAC program led executives to design the DAS, which limits users to one ride-time reservation at a time for high-wait attractions.
I am writing because I just read about the revamp of the Guest Assistance Card (GAC) program. First, as the mother of a child with severe autism, let me say that the GAC program has been an absolute godsend, allowing our family to have some wonderful experiences in your Orlando theme parks that we would not have had otherwise.
I was appalled to learn about the ways the GAC program has been abused, and I understand your company’s need to overhaul it. However, I am angry and dismayed that you’ve decided to lump autistic families in with the entire population of “people with disabilities” under the new plan. It’s obvious that none of the powers-that-be at Disney have a child on the autism spectrum, because the new Disability Assistance System (DAS) assumes that autistic children require the same accommodations as those with mobility issues. Unfortunately, in an attempt to deter fraud, you have alienated an entire segment of the disabled community and their families. I am among them.
Please allow me to list, in detail, the reasons that the new system you’re putting in place on October 9th will prohibit our family from visiting your theme parks:
1. My son cannot wait in line.
OK, this is not completely true—he can wait in line if you’d like to put everyone in that line at risk of being disturbed, touched, and possibly physically assaulted. The main features of his disability are sensory processing disorder and lack of impulse control, and both make waiting in a line for longer than a few minutes equivalent to a torture chamber for him. When agitated, he has been known to lash out.
The description of the new DAS you’ve proposed suggests that my family and I “could go and do anything else in the park in the meantime; watch a parade, see a show, have lunch, go on low wait-time attractions, pull a regular Fastpass for any other attraction, etc.” while we wait for our appointed ride time. And this brings me to my next point.
2. My son only likes four rides at Disney due to his desire for sameness (also a criteria of his diagnosis), and we ride them repeatedly.
Under the previous Guest Assistance Card program, we could go right into the ride, without having to come back at an appointed time and without waiting in a long line. Riding Space Mountain eight times in a row, without having to get out of the seat, is fun for him. Because of his vestibular issues, this does not make him dizzy or sick as it does most people, and the fast speed makes him feel happy. You know, like that dwarf on your $60 T-shirts? Our kids with autism don’t get to experience a great deal of happy in their lives. They are intelligent human beings locked away in bodies that don’t process the world the way others do, living in a society that views them as “Dopey.” Part of the magic of Disney is knowing my kid can ride Soarin’ repeatedly and dream of being the airplane pilot he may never actually have the opportunity to be.
3. There are very few activities suitable for our family to pursue in the meantime, while we wait for our appointed time to access a ride.
We cannot “go get something to eat” in the overpriced restaurants, because most of our money is spent on expensive therapies, which include therapies to ensure my husband and I can stay married and to help our neuro-typical daughter adjust to being “the kid with the weird brother.” We have also established a savings account to pay for a decent place for our son to live when we are gone, so that he has access to the best facilitated care he can receive.
And where can I find one of those “low wait-time attractions?” Is that in the same section as the affordable meals? I believe that’s the place referred to as Never Land. So, thanks for the tip, but those other activities won’t work for our family. As a therapist who works with other families living with autism, I know it won’t work for most of them either.
Kidding and sarcasm aside, I do have a few recommendations. Put on your “ears” and consider this: Current estimates for the prevalence of autism fall between one in 50 and one in 88. The new DAS alienates all those people with the condition, and their parents, grandparents, and siblings as well. Perhaps that’s not enough to put a huge dent in a multibillion dollar company like Disney, but as a small business owner, I realize that the appearance of empathy and professionalism trumps wealth-making as a good business practice.
Please, for the love of Piglet, consider creating an autism spectrum pass—one that would consider the specific needs of these families, such as safety (our kids also like to run away when stressed) and comfort (not having to check-in and come back to a favorite ride or wait beyond 15 to 20 minutes for anything, including food and transportation if possible). What if a pass were created that could include just three favorite rides where these special accommodations could be made? Would it really be that difficult to think outside the box a bit?
I’m asking Disney to exercise some compassion for families like mine, who already have so much to deal with on a daily basis and dream of taking a family vacation just once in their child’s lifetime that isn’t riddled with more stress. Until that day comes, our family will find our “happy place” someplace else.
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