Moms Criticize Disney's New Rules for Kids With Disabilities

disney mickey ears gatesDisney World and Disneyland are destinations for millions of families every year, but these days, it's become so difficult for some to enjoy the parks that they're skipping them altogether. The reason: Disney has done away with the "guest assistance cards" that parents of children with special needs have relied on for years to be able to make much-anticipated trips to the theme parks. The GAC (or GAP) program had been known for providing accommodations for children and teens with physical, cognitive, developmental, or behavioral challenges.

But after certain wealthy parents reportedly abused the system by hiring disabled "family members" to come on vacation, so they could get special perks, Disney axed its GAC program. Now, its successor, the Disability Access Service, or DAS, is under fire, as the subject of a lawsuit filed in California last week.

The suit alleges that both Disney theme parks have violated the Americans with Disability Act and California laws that prohibit disability discrimination.

More from The Stir: 50 Best Autism Resources Online

Considering how many moms of children with special needs feel about DAS, the legal action comes as no surprise. Shannon Rosa, who writes the blog Squidalicious, and whose son Leo is on the autism spectrum, says she's "downhearted about the way this story continues to play out, as the people who were truly benefiting from the original Guest Assistance Card passes are being penalized because other people were abusing the system."

Rosa explains how the changes have affected her family:

We have not been back to Disneyland since the pass system has changed. I'm too nervous about how my son will react -- he loves Disneyland so much, but his kind of autism means transitions are hard, and he won't understand why there are so many steps to go through to ride his favorite rides. So on our last visit to Southern California we went to Legoland instead -- which still has a pass system like the original Disney GAC (Guest Assistance Card) -- and we had a wonderful, fully accomodated time there.

Similarly, one CafeMom member shared:

I do think the new program has done a disservice to certain people.  ... Disney does not ask questions to figure out what kind of accomodations a person needs. I used the new pass for my son a few months ago and came prepared with a doctors note and they did not want to see it. My son can wait for only about 15 minutes ... and the times he did have to wait longer, it was very stressful. I really wish Disney could ask for proof of a disability as this would cut down on the fraud and let them assess what accomodations should be made.

Rosa suggests "a pre-certification system like that used to get disabled parking passes, plus an option to pre-issue passes (as Leo has occasionally had a very tough time just waiting in line to enter the park, due to the crowds and noise)." She notes that changes such as these "would benefit everyone, and could definitely reduce casual abuse of the existing system. Last-minute visitors could still use the current system." 

These are valuable suggestions for the parks as they face backlash over DAS. However, moms of kids with special needs like Rosa hope that ultimately, change will come not as the result of fear induced by a lawsuit, but because those running the show at the "happiest place on earth" realize a revamp of the existing program is the right thing to do.

How do you think Disney should respond to dismay over DAS? Have you been personally affected by the change from GAC to DAS?


Image via HarshLight/Flickr

autism, special needs, kid health, in the news


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Einyn Einyn

I have a child with autism and I don't expect a special pass. I know his limitations and don't go.

Kate Cooley

They got rid of the pass system because people were SUPERabusing it. Not only were they "hiring" people to be their disabled people, they were getting wither scalped or counterfeit cards online to make their trips easier. It's a shame this had to happen, because some people could really use it. Perhaps this new one isn't the way to go, but a change was needed.

peanu... peanutsmommy1

Disney more then meets the equal access clause of the law. Equal access doe not mean different or special access like not having to wait in line

Bellum Bellum

I used the old system in the past for my son, but have not been back with the changes.  I appreciated the lengths they went to to be accommodating.  That said, I don't think they are in violation of the law.

Movie... Moviebuff

They are not breaking the law. I wish people would realize that equal access does not mean different or special access like not having to wait in line.

nonmember avatar mommy

If you're kid cant handle crowds and noises then don't go to freaking Disney land. Some people just have no common sense

Colleen Shepherd

I see that all the people that are leaving comments on here, are nothing but a bunch of ignorants. If you don't have a child with autism, you don't get to say a word, nor do you get to give your stupid, uneducated opinion. Please, SHUT UP! Autism is a disability like any other, and I shouldn't have to punish my angel, by not allowing him to experience the "happiest place on heart" because of the fact that god gave him to me with a disability. The new system sucks, and plus, one of their cast members had the gaul of looking at my kid like he had leaper and actually said to him "What is wrong with you? I don't see anything wrong with him…. Why does he need the pass?" So yeah, that new pass sucks, and Disney is not doing anything to say that they are sorry to me or my kid after the horrible treatment we received at their park.

nonmember avatar Annoyed

Well one of these comments says it all, 'oh boo boo my lil ANGEL is being PUNISHED, heaven forbid he doesn't SPECIAL TREATMENT. It's not FAIR' I love how when people talk about things being fair, what they usually mean is they feel as if they have been slighted, or they are not getting their way. If people want to be mad about something try this: who the hell were these 'disabled' people that were being 'rented' as family members. It seems the rentees and renters were the ones to screw this up not Disney.

Colleen Shepherd

Hey "Annoyed" Your screen name says it all, I feel very sorry for you. I am sure you lead a very pathetic life.  If you come for my kid I am going to come for you. The fact that other people abused the system, is a fact, but you know what? people abuse the system at Universal and Legoland and Knotts Berry Farm and the San Diego Zoo and Sea World too, but you don't hear ANYONE complaining about any of those parks discriminating and not following the law. So screw you! Go get some education, and use the spell checker next time, they put one on here for white trash like you! IDIOT! 


Did other people mess things up for us, families with diabilities? Yes, they did... and how! But, my autistic son, should not pay the price. He doesn't pay the price for it at any other park, so why should "The Happiest Place on Earth" should be any exception to the rule? Why should I have to jump through an eternal amount of hoops and put up with the dirty looks of all the people that work there, simply because others have abused the system, surely if  IT (ANNOYED)  had a disability or a child with disability, wouldn't be talking out of IT'S sphincter right now, there is a lot more to whole issue than just one fact. So like I said before, you have no room to talk. 

nonmember avatar Berry

@Colleen Shepard it dosen't matter how you feel or what you say, the passes are gone! ACCEPT IT AND MOVE ON!

1-10 of 199 comments 12345 Last