On October 9, 2013, Walt Disney World and Disneyland will implement a new program for guests with accessibility concerns in the parks. There have been rumors of a new system coming for the last year or so, and Disney has cited abuse of the program one of the major reasons for the change, especially with recent news coverage. This has been a controversial topic on many blogs over the last few weeks, with much speculation about what the new program would bring. Cast Members at Walt Disney World have been going through training on the new system, and we got some details on how it will work.
First, I want to go over how the current (until October 9) Guest Assistance Card program works. Many have referred to this as a “front of the line pass,” and that just isn’t really true. Guests with concerns about accessing rides would visit Guest Relations, explain their needs to the Cast Member, and then (if needed) the Cast Member would provide a Guest Assistance Card. The Cast Member would then fill out information on the card such as guest name, party size, dates valid (either length of stay or two weeks), and would then mark it with a stamp (or stamps) outlining the guests needs. There was a stamp for alternate entrances, to provide a shaded waiting area, front row of ride vehicle, and so on. There was also a “green light” stamp that was used for children on Make-A-Wish Foundation trips and provided more immediate access.
The most common use of the card was for alternate entrances. While sometimes these alternate entrances were just the FASTPASS queue (hence people calling it “front-of-the-line access,” despite often having up to 20 minute waits), guests unable to use stairs or who needed a special ride vehicle were often sent to a different load area that often had much longer than average waits. Especially with rides with only one accessible vehicle (like Toy Story Mania, it’s a small world, and Kilimanjaro Safaris), the alternate entrance waits could actually be much longer than the standby line.
Not only did the FASTPASS queue entrance leave the program open to heavy abuse, but the long lines at other alternate entrances caused a very uneven set of experiences for guests. The new system looks to both end (or at least curtail) abuse and create a more consistent experience for all guests.
There are three new systems being introduced to replace the Guest Assistance Card program: the Disabilities Assistance System (DAS), the Wishes Lanyard, and the Readmission Passes (for wheelchairs).
#1= DAS CARD
On the surface this appears to be what replaces the Guest Assistance Card (GAC). DAS originally stood for “Disabilities Assistance System,” and it is what most people have used to refer to the new program. However, Disney has concerns regarding use of the term “disability” and is looking to change the name before launch to something like “Disney Accessibility System.” Though the final name isn’t known yet, the DAS acronym is expected to stay the same. The card will be similar in size to the previous GAC but will be green instead of red (or blue at Disneyland). On the right half of the card are several things printed (not hand-written):
- PHOTO ID & NAME- The process to get the new DAS card will take about 20 minutes the first time because Disney now requires a photo on the card. This is to make sure the person who is meant to use it is actually there. The only exceptions are: A) a parent can have his or her photo taken in lieu of their child’s (the child’s name would still be the one listed), or B) you can refuse the photo altogether, but you must show a valid photo ID (like a driver’s license) upon presenting the DAS at each attraction.
- DATE RANGE- DAS cards will last for up to 7 days. If you are staying longer than a week, you must get a new one after the first 7 days.
- PARK- A feature staying the same from the GAC: Guest Relations writes which park you received your DAS.
- NUMBER IN PARTY- Guest Relations has already lifted the rule that each GAC/DAS can only accommodate a maximum of 6 guests. Now your party size will be printed on the card. However, Disney will still try to limit it to a maximum of 6.
- NO STAMPS- Gone are the stamps to accommodate for “alternate entrance,” “front row,” and the like. All DAS cards are created equally.
If you look on the front left half of the DAS card, there is now a contract very similar to what one might find in the fine print on the back of a park admission ticket. Things like “we are not responsible for the weather,” “attractions may unexpectedly close at any time,” and “non transferable or redeemable” are there, plus things like “this does not grant you admittance into the park” and “this is not a FASTPASS; that system is meant to be used in tandem but separately from this system.” At the bottom the guest has to sign the card. That way if a guest is found abusing the system, Guest Services can revoke the privilege for breaking the rules the guest agreed to. Also, in the bottom left corner is a QR code that Guest Services can scan. It will pull up your information the next time you need to get a new DAS card, making it a faster process than the first time. Eventually this should also be linked to your MyMagic+ account, but this is probably still a while off.
On the back of the DAS card, you will find a grid that guests familiar with Universal Orlando’s accessibility system will recognize. There are enough spots for about 30 attractions visits (if you fill them up, you will need a new card), and the columns are labeled “Attraction,” “Posted Time,” “Current Time.” “Return Time,” and “Cast”. The way this works at Walt Disney World is the greeter Cast Member at each attraction (NOT special kiosks, as has been rumored) will take the current wait time, subtract 10 minutes, add it to the time on the clock and tell them to come back at that time to enter an alternate entrance. For example, if the wait at Space Mountain is 60 minutes at 3:00 pm, the guest would be told to come back at 3:50 pm to enter the FASTPASS line. This also works at continuous shows, too: if the next show of Voyage of the Little Mermaid is 2:45 pm but the Cast Member knows the last person in line will get into the 3:15 pm show, he’ll tell the guest to come back for the 3:15 pm show. Again, this is to have the guest wait the actual length of time everyone else is waiting while also accommodating the guest’s needs. The guests can go eat lunch or see a show while they wait for the time to come up, and then come back any time after their return time. Guests can only get one return time for an attraction at a time (just like with FASTPASS). If they have a Soarin’ time, but also want to get a Test Track time, they either have to ride Soarin’ first, or the Test Track Cast Member will cross out and void their Soarin’ time and give them a new Test Track time.
On the “Cast” line Disney Cast Members are going to have a code word of the day at each attraction. For example, At Splash Mountain, Monday might be “Briar,” Tuesday ”Falls,” etc. There has also been talk of different colored pens and hole punches in the future. This is all to help combat forgeries.
Disneyland’s system will be very similar except that instead of visiting each attraction for return times, guests will go to a central kiosk where a Guest Relations Cast Member will issue their times.
#2= WISHES LANYARD
Previously, Give Kids the World and Make-a-Wish were given GACs with a green traffic light stamp. This meant “go out of your way to accommodate them as best you can.” For example, at character meet and greets there is no alternate entrance for GACs. However for green lights they would either send them through the exit (if it was an indoor meet) or allow them to go in front of families waiting. Now, they will not get a DAS card but a “Wishes Lanyard” with a picture of the Genie from Aladdin on it. It will also have the guest’s name, date range, and party size on the back, and it will still have the same privileges as the green light stamp on the GAC. The guest will receive the lanyard before arriving at the park (most likely by mail). Currently, it is my understanding there will not be any of these given out on property.
#3= READMISSION PASSES (for Wheelchairs)
Most queues these days are wheelchair accessible, but there are still about 10 attraction queues in all of WDW that are not. (Most are in Magic Kingdom; Star Tours is another example). Therefore, if guests cannot exit their wheelchairs or stand in those lines for the posted wait time, a Cast Member at the attraction will give them a card about the size of a FASTPASS with a return time (exactly like the DAS), and when they return they’ll be sent in through an alternative entrance. Again, this is to make them wait the time allotted without actually waiting in the queue.
Beginning October 9 any guest showing a Guest Assistance Card at an attraction will have the card taken away and will directed to Guest Relations to get a new DAS card. Due to the backlash Disney has already received, there will be extra security stationed at all Guest Relations for the next several weeks.
As with any changes there will be growing pains. Please remember that the front line Cast Members who are working the attractions or providing cards in Guest Relations are not the people who made these changes. If you try the new system and find it frustrating or have any other issues, please do not take it out on the Cast Members in the parks; they are just doing their jobs. Email Guest Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org with any concerns.
We plan on trying out the new program on launch day and will update the post with our experiences.
UPDATE: Disney released official information! On October 4, 2013, Disney published a Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card Fact Sheet online for the new program that takes effect at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World on October 9. There also is a Disney Parks Blog post that includes a letter to guests from Meg Crofton, President, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, U.S. and France.