Disney 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.
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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