How WE did Disney with Autism – Part 2
October 2013, Disney changed to their current system, the Disability Access Service (DAS) Card that is designed to accommodate guests who aren’t able to wait in a conventional queue environment due to a disability. It allows Guests with disabilities to receive a return time for attractions based on the current wait time. When the Guest finishes one attraction, they can receive a return time for another.
Based on complaints I have read on other blog sites, the following phrase is the root of the problem with the new system: guests who aren’t able to wait in a conventional queue environment. For many autistic individuals, it is not just about waiting in a conventional queue. It is often the wait. Someone might think, so what, we all have to wait. Well, that person must not know many autistic people. The most lengthy wait time we saw while on our trip was 105 minutes (1.75hrs.)
So what does Disney mean by guests not being able to wait in a conventional queue? It means long lines with lots of people in small spaces, lots of talking, noise, smells, possibly crying babies, lighting changes, etc. All of those things can be pure torture to an autistic person. Even the content of conversations of people nearby could be enough to send Jessica off on a ridiculous trek of anxiety. Someone could mention it rained in Timbuktu and Jess would worry for the rest of the day that it might start to rain and we might have to leave. Or, what if Jess overheard the word closed? Maybe Space Mountain is closed? Maybe it is closed forever and will never ever open again. What if one of those conversation scenarios happened, a baby started crying and Jess got really agitated, all while we were inside the really long and narrow Peter Pan queue with no easy way out? What if during her meltdown she started saying she was going to hit someone?
- It would create an embarrassing scene
- It would be very difficult to navigate back out
- We would lose our place in line
- We would have wasted an hour waiting
- It would be very disheartening
That is just one example of why it could be difficult to wait in a conventional queue. That does not make for a very fun vacation. Thankfully, that did not happen to us on this trip. But, similar things happen to families with autistic children on a regular basis.
Okay, so lets not wait in the conventional queue. What does that change? Mainly just the factor of small spaces. There are still lots of people, talking, noise, odor & aromas, crying babies & children, etc.
The thing is that all families need a vacation, including families of autistic individuals. Do we need some accommodations to make our vacation a vacation? Absolutely! Disney even implies they use their Disney magic to make special things possible for Guests with disabilities.
Disney Parks hold a cherished place in the hearts of the millions of Guests who visit us each year. We know that is especially true for those of you who have a loved one with a disability. For many families, what would be impossible elsewhere is not only possible, but magical, at our parks and resorts. We are proud to play such an important role in so many of your lives…” Meg Crofton, President, Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts operations, U.S. and France
When a family member has autism, life is like walking on eggshells every minute of every day. We have to be careful of everything we say, because many things can trigger a daylong (weeklong, etc.) obsession, worry, anxiety, repetitive questions, and sometimes all out meltdowns. Just yesterday, Hannah spent the whole day assuring Jess that her friend Keely is still a secretary because someone asked if Keely was a nurse.
Disney costs too much money to spend the day trying to overcome constant meltdowns. Getting a lot done in a short window of time can often be the key to a successful visit. Disney’s Disability Access Service Card program has been under fire since it was started, including lawsuits. It goes deeper than a child not being able to enjoy Disney. It trickles down to families not being able to enjoy Disney. Some of those families had been loyal annual visitors, including investments in annual park passes, Disney timeshares, and some families had spent thousands of dollars on their Disney vacations.
According to disabilityscoop.com, in February 2015, Florida Commission on Human Relations determined that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts discriminated against autistic children when the company changed its policies for disabled access to rides and attractions in 2013. The commission determination found that the DAS program would not allow a disabled visitor “to enjoy the park as it was intended to be enjoyed by all other patrons.”
DID WE USE A DAS CARD?
No, we didn’t. I read of the complaints prior to our trip. Originally, I thought we would try it so that we could form our own opinions. But, once we got to the park, we did not want to wait in the long line at Guest Relations to get the card since it would probably not be of good use to us anyway.
Aside from Jessica’s higher than usual anxiety, our vacation went smoothly and we had a good time. Several things factored into our success:
- Pre-vacation planning
- The Disney Vacation Notebook
- Staying at a Disney Resort
- Extra days at the Theme Parks to allow for a slower pace
Because we booked a Walt Disney World Resort Vacation, we were able to reserve our FassPass+ selections two months prior to our trip. We were able to plan which parks we were going to on which days, and select passes during the time frame that we were planning to be at the park. We were able to reserve passes for 3 attractions/day. In theory, after those three are used, we could have scheduled more, one attraction at a time. However, there was an hour-long wait line to get to the place to reserve the passes, so we didn’t get any more than our original three.
The other thing that worked for our trip was being there for an extended time frame. A fourth theme park day was only $20 more per person. When we booked our reservations at Disney’s Port Orleans, we took advantage of a special they were offering which gave us a fifth day free. We literally viewed that 5th day as a freebie, and just went to Magic Kingdom for about 5 hours on our arrival day. That way we got some of our to-do list done ahead of our full-days and we didn’t feel we had to squeeze so much into each day.
We are Disney fans. We still love Walt Disney World. I do not forget that what started the whole issue was unscrupulous ‘guests.’ However, Disney does seem to have lost their magic when designing their current disability access program.