Disney parks’ unexpected changes in disability access create room for discourse
Oct. 9 marked the day that entertainment giant Disney terminated its Guest Assistance Card (GAC) program in favor of the new Disabled Assistance System (DAS) at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. This abrupt change elicited an outburst of responses from past users of the GAC program.
As background, GAC worked in the following way: upon arrival at Disneyland or Disney World, guests would request a GAC at Guest Relations offices. No questions could be asked by Disney employees to verify the validity of the disability due to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Guests, along with five others, could present this card at any ride, then move through the rear, handicap-accessible entrance and wait with FastPass users indoors. Unfortunately, this was not often the case as GAC users blocked the exits to many rides and it was more convenient for them to be ushered immediately on to the ride. On the other hand, the new DAS works similarly to that of other amusement parks, such as Six Flags. Guests are given a DAS picture identification upon coming to the park. For each ride they choose, they must go to one of the kiosks in the park and request to be placed on the queue. Then, they are given a time to return to the ride based on the current line and can choose to spend their free time as they please.
As many know, Disney has no shortage of long lines, and many people saw the GAC as a free FastPass to the park. Over the years, the number of GAC users grew not just from individuals with a legitimate need for this program but from individuals of all ages claiming to have a disability. It is unfortunate and disappointing that certain members of society felt it was acceptable to take merciless advantage of this system. Programs such as the GAC are not meant to give those individuals with disabilities special treatment; they are in place so that these individuals can share in the joy of Disney. Yet this widespread and recognized abuse was not what ultimately sparked change. While working on her novel “Primates of Park Avenue,” anthropologist Wednesday Martin exposed a Disney black market: disabled individuals with GAC access were renting out their cards to wealthy families for around $130 per hour. These disabled individuals understand the necessity for the system to be in place; however, they are ultimately the reason others with disabilities must now confront a new system that may deter some from attending the park.
Amid all the criticism for the new system and all the calls to action against Disney’s latest decision, there is a lack of patience and trust. Indeed, the new system is flawed. It is flawed for those individuals who might only have an hour or two at the park because of their disabilities. It is flawed for the unique cases. But how do you create an inclusive system for the individual, especially when it comes to disability? It is not possible. One concrete set of regulations will not work for all.
Right now, the real solution is to have patience, which is very difficult to ask of people who feel that Disney has alienated them from the park. Thus far, the system is early in its implementation, and not all programs are completely functioning. It will work for the majority, and it will hopefully combat the abuse that harmed those who genuinely depend on the assistance Disney offered. On the other hand, for those who believe that Disney is pushing them away and that the new system will invariably take away their capacity to enjoy the magical experience, there needs to be some trust of Disney. There is a reason Disney is the company that has pioneered the way for disability access in the entertainment industry. This is not to say people with disabilities who are affected by this change should be quiet—everyone has the right to access. Nonetheless, the more appropriate way to confront the situation is to support Disney as it moves through the changes while making it known that there will need to be an element of individualization to the new system. If it truly offers the “happiest place on Earth,” then Disney will ensure there is a way for everyone to cherish the magic.