Disney Finally Replacing Guest Assistance Cards With New Accessibility Program Beginning 10/9/13

Beginning 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 major news coverage. This has been a controversial topic throughout the community 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 managed to get 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).

System 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 Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Monday might be “Buzz,” Tuesday ”Zurg,” 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 them a time.

System 2: WISHES LANYARD

Previously, Give Kids the World and Make-a-Wish were given Guest Assistance Cards 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). It’s my understanding there will not be any of these given out on property.

System 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 at the Magic Kingdom). 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 as they are just doing their jobs.

We here at WDWNT plan on trying out the new program on October 9th and will  post about our experience with the new system then, so stay tuned!

35 comments

  1. Terry

    Is it bad that I like this way a lot better then the old… It wasn't very fair in the past that just because someone had a disability they got to jump to the front of the line. I had first hand experience of it happening to me. The people were nice and all but they did say that you get serious advantages when you are with someone who has a disability… I love that now everyone is on an equal playing field and people can't say that it isn't fair anymore, because the way that all sounds it is equal now… :)

    • People who brush through life with nothing terrible happen to them will have responses like this one above. Not only will this effect our kiddos with Autism, but it will also effect EVERY person with a disability. Now people who are in wheelchairs, individuals with Cerebral Palsy, people who suffere(d) from cancer/stroke/ brain aneurisms/ people with MS (the list can go on and on), will not be able to enjoy the park like typical people. AND since a lot of the lines are not wheelchair accessible (especially at Disneyland Park), this whole thing where they say you can go on a ride with a small wait time while you have a Fastpass is bull. I will never understand why they had to change a system that worked so well for thousands of people just so a small handful of abusers can get a slap on the wrist. I don't understand where the humanity has gone in our society, people have no HEART for others who have physical/neurological disabilities! Yeah Terry, we do want equal rights, meaning we want our children to have every opportunity a typical person can have, because we LOVE them, and want the best for them. They're already ridiculed and are the outcasts of our society, and now we can't even enjoy a trip to Disneyland. How is it so hard to understand this? I had a father-in-law who had a brain aneurism and couldn't walk/talk and I was so happy Disneyland was able to accommodate him, it made my heart smile, this was the last trip he was able to go with his family before he passed away. I'm glad he was able to enjoy that before this ridiculous system, because he wouldn't have been able to hold up for very long in the sun and holding himself up straight in a wheelchair. Is this the equal rights you want? You want to have a physically disability just so you can wait in a shorter line? Trust me I would take the longer line over any of the stuff my ASD daughter and my father-in-law had to deal with. You're LAZY. Before I had a daughter with ASD I WAITED in line and didn't complain when a person with a disability waited shorter than me. Get a life!

      • Jenn

        I agree whole heartedly .. I have 2 special needs kiddos.. Disney was amazing to them in 2009.. I hate that others thought of the fast pass as a cheat.. Of my children could have stood in those lines I know they would have.. And truthfully even with the old system wait times were mostly up to 30 minutes

  2. Jill Hoel

    It's sad that my daughter with severe Autism will no longer be able to attend Disneyland. I laugh at those ignorant people that think it wasn't fair for those with a disability to be able to jump ahead in line. Like my daughter would rather have autism than to stand in line….give me a break. If we could get rid of Autism, we'd happily stand in line any day. It's not just the wait in line. She loves Disneyland but can only handle maybe 3 hours in the park due to her sensory issues. Under the old system we could get through 6-8 rides in that 3 hour time period and leave the park prior to a sensory overload. Now with the new fastpass system, we could only get in maybe 2 rides in that same time period since they only allow you to get a time for one ride at a time with up to a 90 minute wait in between. Hardly worth the high price of a single day ticket that we'd save all year for. Disneyland….no longer the happiest place on earth. I'm sure those non-disabled Disney employees that use to scam a GAC will somehow manage to get a Wishes Lanyard from the same inside contacts to continue their line cutting.

    • Well fortunately for you sir, Disney offers other types of attractions besides rides. Try parades and shows. Maybe even go shopping. I look at this way, this new system is a blessing for those who spend most of their time waiting in line and not giving themselves the chance to explore the park's hidden gems. For example, instead of going directly from Expedition Everest to Dinosaur, spending a total of 2 hours waiting for a 3 minute ride, take that extra time to see Mickey's Jamming Jungle Parade or visit Rifikis Planet Watch. I know that there is probably something in Disneyland that you havent tried yet so maybe open your mind and experiene something new.

  3. Michelle

    To those of you who have to wait in the regular lines and feel the current system was not fair for everyone, I understand what you are feeling, but consider this: at the end of the day, you return to your regular able-bodied life and that person with a disability who "cut in line" or "got to enter through the exit" returns to their life of living with a disability. Life is not fair, you assume Disneyland should be? As a mom with a special-needs child, I assure you that this new system will not work for us. If my child had the ability to wait for an anticipated event without the anxiety building up inside of him until it erupted in an enormous outburst of aggression, anger and elopement, we would wait in the regular lines with everyone else. We've tried, it's miserable for us and traumatic for our son. As it is, he can only tolerate 3-4 hours at Disneyland until the vast amounts of visual

    and audible stimuli overwhelm him and he shuts down, necessitating our return to home. With the current system, we can get in about 4-5 rides before leaving. With the new system, probably 2-3 will be our limit, assuming no meltdowns occur as we are forced to wait undetermined amounts of time between attractions. Will it be worth the effort anymore? Not sure, but my doubts are shared by thousands of other parents in the same boat as me. I am very disappointed in Disney right now. So, for those of you who are neurotypical, enjoy your able-bodied lifestyle and remember that living with a disability is a 24-hour lifestyle that never, ever, feels fair in any way.

    • bjean

      Wow, I like to think of myself as very compassionate, but your reply is just spewing with hatred and anger. Its not anyone's fault that your child has autism nor is it anyone's fault that my child is quote-unquote"normal". But your tone and attitude sucks, lady! "Enjoy your able bodied lifetyle"??? Why yes, we will. But i will also teach my children to be thankful and use it to help disabled and maybe let the family behind them in line behind them go ahead if they see that they have a disabled kid!! You are not entitled to anything with that attitude! Be a bit more humble lady!

  4. Michael McKelvin

    I think this is a good improvement to the system. Though it does not assist as much to people with Autism, I feel it's an improvement over the previous system. People with disabilities will still be able to get on the ride without having to wait in a physical line for extended periods of time. Since the instant gratification of no lines on rides will be gone, the ability to game the system will decrease. The best part is people with disabilities will not lose anything. They will still get on rides and shows without having to wait in a physical line. I need to reiterate that this does not solve anything for people with Autism, but I feel this is a good change that needs just needs tweaking for the Autistic.

  5. Anthony

    Those with disabilities have stated that they always want to be treated equally like everyone else until it comes to standing in a theme park line. The new system is fair and the way it should have been all along.

  6. Donna Spatig

    This is a welcome change to a compassionate system, though the reasons for the change cause me to question who we, as a people, have become. Comments that reference "unfairness" first of all don't understand how "unfair" a life-long compromise is to the person and the people who love them. I hope you never have to learn that. We have never "jumped to the front of the line", so where that concept comes from is beyond me. My son's inability to withstand longer periods of sensory input coupled with prolonged inactivity while waiting in a line is so compromising that he would never be able to visit the one place that provides joy that the rest of the world does not. So, the next time you think life is "unfair", it is ….but perhaps not to you.

  7. Rich

    Hey so how about the families that collect every penny for years to bring their kids one time in their lives to Disney? Why is it fair to assume their timeis less valuable than a guest with a disability? Imagine your kid standing in front of an attraction and telling them they don't have time to ride because another guest gets the privelege to ride over and over in front of them.

  8. T. Murray

    It's a shame that Disney isn't allowed to inquire about someones disability. To decipher between the genuine cases and just the fat lazy ones. If you want a special assistance card you should have prove you absolutely need one. Then i have no problem if they skip ahead. Actually someone confined to a wheel chair in a 90 minute queue has an advantage over those of us having to stand…i'm just saying.

  9. joe

    I think any one who has had an AP has seen the abuse of the system that was in place. I have seen at DL where the 3rd boat loading/unloading was just for GAC guests. It was not just one or two rows but the whole boat also seeing a whole boat load on one GAC. If you look back to the start of the program only one person could go with the GAC member of the party and everyone else had to go through the regular line. I feel for anyone that really needs the program but like everything there are people that screw it up for the ones that follow the rules, so they have to change the rules to stop the abuse. I hope everyone will give it a try before they make up their mind that this is a totally bad change.

  10. I cant believe a disabled child cutting in line at a theme park could bother a grown person. I have no disabilities, I have no children with disabilities, nor any family with disabilities, and I don't care if a kid with or without disabilities gets to cut in line to ride the Haunted Mansion Ride. Grow the f*ck up.

  11. Fiona

    it is not about children with special needs getting a better deal than able bodied children. It is the fact that due to their disability they are unable to withstand crowds crammed beside them for long periods of time. Some of these children can only stay at the park for 2 or 3 hours before becoming too overwhelmed by the crowds, noise and upbeat atmosphere. People can be so quick to throw out the word equality but without understanding that the equality is allowing every child to have the opportunity to go on these rides. if a child is unable to stand in a line for more than 15 minutes due to their disability they can not get to go on the ride end of. thats how it is unfair about the system!! it is not their fault they dont have ability to wait as long as other children and its not fair that they lose out because of it.

    • Matt

      Two things. First, under the GAC system there can be and often are waits over 15 minutes. GAC never provided instant access to all attractions.

      Second, there is nothing in the description of the new system that indicates there will be longer lines to wait in. In fact, if the new system decreases abuse, the lines should end up being shorter.

      No reasonable person is going to say all those with disabilities should wait just as long as everyone else. Those opinions are irrelevant anyway because that's not what the new system does. What it DOES do is still provide significant accommodations to the disabled without being open to rampant abuse. THAT is what makes it a fair and equitable solution.

  12. As a person with a disability, I understand the need to stop the abuse. Not sure how well this new version will work. I visit once a yr. with my family usually around the first week of May when the park is not to crowded to help accommodate my disability. Hate driving my chair through crowds. I have always complimented Disney and their effort they make to make my vacation as "Normal" as possible despite my disability. To have to go to a ride and then return is sort of a pain for a person in a chair, but again I understand your effort. With the start of the magic band and Fastpass+ system my need to use the DAS system will be less, which I greatly appreciate. Nothing makes you feel worst then the looks you get when using the alternate entrance. Trust me I feel everyone of your stares. Again thank you Disney for your efforts, and I believe the magicband will been the answer to this problem. One more thing there is nothing in the World I would rather do then be able to "Stand in Line" with my girls at Disney World but that is not in Gods plan right now….

  13. Helen

    I don't think anybody begrudges those suffering from autism, cerebral palsy, ms etc etc, the special access to the lines. That is what Disney is about. Should the party be larger than their immediate family or caretakers is another debate but probably not worth arguing about. But now I'm going to incur the wrath of all the readers. Someone's size or age is not deservant of the same special treatment. Nor does a cast, for instance, prevent one from waiting as long as anyone else. This is where the system has been abused for years. "Entitlement" by these people is part of what has driven the change. Disney cannot or will not differentiate the truly disabled and the merely inconvenienced. And those for whom the system was designed are paying the cost.

  14. As someone who has had to use ECVs on several occasions, I know how people stare and sneer and comment – it's not right and they should be ashamed of themselves. However, I have also seen abuse of these things, and it's gotten exponentially worse over the years. With the Magic Band, FastPass Plus and now the new GAC policy, it think it is finally fair for everyone. This way, you go, get the GAC return FP, visit another less popular attraction or browse through shops, and come back when it's your time. It's not about punishing you because you're disabled, it's about making things fair for all. You don't need to stand in line, but you do need to wait your turn. Bravo, Disney!

  15. Rich

    Yes, some disabled guests may only be able to handle a few hours in the park. At the same time some families can only afford to spend a few hours in the park in a lifetime. Again I ask WHY is one 8 year olds time more valuable than another?

  16. This is the same system that Universal uses and I think its brilliant. For those in a wheelchair or have a temporary disability it works great. I understand those with autism or a sort of mental handicap are feeling it worse with this new rule but they are also creating excuses for themselves. I can very much imagine seeing a parent with their disabled child sitting in one spot for a whole 50 minutes instead of getting up and exploring what other parts of the park there are. Don't sulk in your own created pity. Get up and explore. Thats what disney teaches through their media. You think Carl from Up let his age and depression stop him from going on an adventure?! NO! He got out there, and found whatever he could. When someone serves you a plain salad, add some dressing baby! I'm sure when you find that new part of the parks youve never seen before, it'll impress you that you allowed yourself to find that part and enjoy it.

  17. Personally I would give anything for my girls to be able to handle waiting in a normal line. I would nearly give my life for them to not have struggles but sadly they have to deal with albinism, being legally blind, sensory processing disorder, and autism. For them lines are hard for them and can cause them pain. I hope that they are still able to enjoy the park like they could because Disney is one of the few places where they can go and be happy and feel like they aren't different. Having your child tell you that they feel normal is amazing thing to hear when usually they can't understand why they are different than their sisters and other people and why they can't handle going to the store or out to eat. I just hope they can still enjoy themselves.

  18. The regulations of the new GAC (or DAS) indicate that they are striving to have a wait of no more than 10 minutes. There will be no kiosk …the CM at that ride will assign a time on the card which will be the current stand-by wait minus 10 minutes. So …if it's noon and you show up at Space Mountain and the wait is 50 minutes …you'll return at 12:40 and go to the fast pass line. So …there is no prolonged wait on line.

  19. The more I read about this issue the more I see that many seem to feel that their family member's disability is so much worse than that of everyone else …and that ANY wait time is not acceptable. They don't want to go elsewhere for those 40 minutes …they want instant access …just like Disney was ILLEGALLY providing for all these years. What they were doing was in direct contradiction of the ADA laws ….providing a system to one group (the disabled) …that provided benefits that were not afforded to another group (non -disabled).

    Of course there will be those that will try and play the heartstrings of the 'able-bodied' with the, "Do you want to deny someone the chance of a lifetime at Disney by not letting them have access before you". It's not about 'humanity" …it's about the law. The ADA doesn't segregate certain disabilities from one another on some perceived basis of one being "worse" than the others ….and no one that operates a public accommodation can do so either.

      • …..reasonable accommodation does not guarantee 'enjoyment" of a ride or attraction …it guarantees access to said attraction ….enjoyment, fulfillment, satisfaction …is not guaranteed.

        • Ron D'Anna

          Use a broader definition of enjoy. And WDW didn't provide carte blanche front of the line access in the first place. If the queue was built to accommodate wheel chairs, which would be most attractions built in the 90s or later, most GACs sent the guest through the main entrance. At those attractions, the only guests sent though in an "expedited" (the word used on the GACs) were those with issues being in line: heat or crowds and other stimuli. Example: prior to the Mansions refurb guests bypassed the line and the stretch room for operational reasons with the queue, not to express them onto the ride. Now they are sent through stretchroom when one of the hallways was modified to get wheel chairs through easier. We actually rarely had autism issues at the Mansion since many of the same triggers that the line would cause would be caused by the ride, most guests expedited through the queue were for heat issues.

  20. Nikki

    The reason they had to change the policy was due to individuals "selling" their passes to individuals without special needs. It was on the news and a reporter participated filmed this "selling". Some individuals were making money off of front of the line access and have caused Disney to change their policy. I am not saying I agree with the new changes, but I think Disney tried to make the best decision to prevent this misuse of guest assistance cards. I work with children with autism spectrum disorder and understand this will be difficult, but maybe Disney will adapt to families whose children can't wait for the return time.

  21. Judy Mardula

    I have not been to Disney World in many years, last time was way before fast pass and guest assistance cards (even pre dining plan).This December we will be taking my five year old grandson who deals with multiple issues. He is on the autism spectrum, has sensory issues and has something that used to be called Central Auditory Processing Disorder which is like dyslexia for the ears. To help this bright, lovable little boy enjoy his first visit, I have been spending hours on the computer developing touring plans to minimize walking (for me) and waiting (for him). We have scheduled character meals (up early 180 days before) to eliminate waiting in line for meet and greets. We were told of the Guest Assistance Card by his special education teacher but now the system has changed. I think for many people with children like my grandson, it is still doable. I will be picking my fast pass choices judiciously even on arrival and departure days (6 fast passes we had not originally planned on.) We will probably apply for the new card but we might not even need to use it.

  22. Rachael Singleton

    The wait time at the kiosk alone is going to be 30 minutes just to get the return time will that be taken off my wait time too?

  23. Yvonne M.

    As a children's psychologist, I can tell you that Donna is correct and to mention a money factor is really absurd. If you don't think these people who have kids and family members with special needs don't have to save their pennies, then you are completely clueless. They have medical bills, psychological bills, bills for medications, expenses you can never in your wildest imagination understand. Many of have a parent that is unable to work in order to take care of said family member. They lose an entire paycheck and many become impoverished because of it. I am truly disgusted by the cruel comments I'm reading here.

  24. Elise

    As a parent to one Asperger child and one “normal” kid, I can assure you that the wait in line for hours in sometimes excessive FL heat leaves that “normal” child as miserable, unhappy, and tearful as my Aspie kid after a half hour. The new system appears to be more fair.

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