9.21.2013

Please, Disneyland: Do Right By Your Autistic Fans

Disneyland train! Disneyland train! (Feb 2013)
Update 10/5/13: Looks like the new policy will indeed acknowledge diversity in disability and offer differing accommodations as a result. Woot! So grateful and relieved.

Leo is singing a song about Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck right now, because all things Disneyland are never far from his mind. He asks to go to Disneyland every single day of his life, and if he hadn't been singing that song, he'd probably have been watching California Screamin' roller coaster videos on YouTube, or looking through pictures of his own 2011 trip to the Land of Mouse.

Leo really, really loves Disneyland. Really loves it. It is his happy place, one of the few places I know he will have a good time all day long, one of a handful of not-our-home places I feel fully comfortable taking him.

That is why I am so downhearted about the recent announcement that the park will be discontinuing the Guest Assistance Card that made Leo's trips to Disneyland possible. If Leo doesn't have a GAC, we can't go. End of story.

I've written about Leo's adoration of The Happiest Place on Earch before, and why the Guest Assistance Cards matter.
Leo's visit was a huge success, and Disneyland turned out to his Land of Yes. He got to do exactly what he wanted all day long, directing the action according to his interests and impulses -- an unprecedented freedom for a boy with a heavily structured life. He was also never bored, which can be an issue for people with communication challenges. Because of a Guest Assistance [Card] the Mouse thoughtfully provides for people whose behaviors make it difficult to wait in lines, Leo could get right back on any ride he liked, as many times as he wanted.
You have to understand: our love of the GAC is not because we get to skip lines and blow raspberries at all the chumps who don't. Skipping lines is not a convenience but a necessary accommodation for our boy. Because he is autistic. Because of his specific disability.

Leo can wait in lines, but not always. Not lines of Disneyland length. Not without melting down due to the crowds, the noise, the expectation based on previous experience that he will not have to wait in lines longer than 20 or so minutes. Without the GAC, Disneyland is effectively barred to my son.

Even with the GAC, it can be difficult -- there is no GAC for park entry lines, so when those lines were longer than he was used to the last time we visited, Leo ended up having a spectacular meltdown. Please believe me, he really does need GAC accommodation; he doesn't deserve to be a public spectacle just because of his neurology.


I understand that Disney is planning an alternative to the GAC: the Disabled Assistance System (DAS), which includes a system of going to kiosks to get return times for the most popular rides. Which incorporates back-and-forth time for DAS users only. People with disabilities and their families only. Which means additional complications and fewer ride times for those for whom going to Disneyland is already much more complicated and so already includes fewer ride times.


I have heard from several different sources that Disneyland discontinued the GAC because people were rampantly taking advantage of it, either falsely claiming disability or in some cases hiring disabled people so their non-disabled kids could skip lines.

Happiest boy, happiest family (Feb 2013)
My reaction: So what? There will always be losers people who game accommodation systems. But in a fair and just society, you don't take away (or complicate) accommodations for people with disabilities just because non-disabled people are taking advantage of them and making other non-disabled people mad. Especially as I've never heard from any of our Disneyland-loving, GAC-using friends about being disadvantaged due to too many other GAC users.


There are so many other things that make Disneyland wonderful for Leo: Hotel pools that open at 9 AM. Cheerful and accommodating staff. Beer in California Adventure (OK, OK -- that one's for me). But the GAC is the Disneyland matter that matters most for our family. I will continue to monitor the DAS as it develops, and learn from others about whether it could work for us. I hope so, because I had just started to plan our next Disneyland trip. If we shouldn't go, I need to know soon.

51 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post, Shannon.

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  2. I was horrified when I heard about this. Like you, Disneyland became my son Marcus' happy place, his "yes" place - one of very few on this planet. I'm trying to figure out why it wouldn't be simpler for Disney to require a letter from a doctor or something to receive the GAC - we brought one with us, just in case, but they didn't need it. I think it would be faster. I'll admit, it's not a perfect idea - there will always be people willing to try to game the system - but requiring a doctor's note would make it a little harder...

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    1. Hippa. Legislation prevents Disney from requiring proof.

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    2. I am sure you meant HIPAA -- the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It will require some research to ascertain your claim that Disney cannot require proof of disability due to HIPAA, but I am nearly sure that your are mistaken.

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  3. I read this, I'm Dutch, and I also have autism. Here we have a special card wich is recognized by a number of amusement parks het in The Netherlands. This card even works in Disneyland Paris. This card is made possible by the Dutch association for people with autism. If you want one you have to sent a letter from a doctor (wich include a officla diagnosis, with your application so you can prove you really have autism. So I can prove that I'm not capable of standing in lines and that Im allowed to skip them. Some parks don't accept this special card but they do accept a letter from a doctor.
    Isn't there any possibility that people in America create such a system.
    Cause like your son it's for me the only way I can go to an amusemanet park.

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  4. We've never been to Disneyland, but have been to Disney World several times, always using the FastPass system. As you may be aware, the FastPass system works in a very similar manner to proposed DAS- you go up to a kiosk, you get a time to come back, you go and do your thing until your window opens. I know every individual is different, but this has worked very well for my son. Don't despair. Give it a try. You can use the time before your return time to have a snack, go on rides that have a shorter line, just hang out and catch some down time. You can use social stories to explain that your turn is coming soon. Plan some visits for a "down time" to give Leo a chance to get used to the new system. From the way you describe him, he's a smart boy and he'll figure out the new system if given a chance.

    Disney World is also changing their FastPass system, requiring individuals to book ride times prior to their arrival, so the FastPass system that we know is going away. You pointed out that only people with disabilities and their families will be required to use the DAS system. People without disabilities will have to plan out their days months in advance or wait in long stand-by lines. I know that for my family, the DAS will be the better option.

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  5. Jenn, we went to Disneyland earlier this year with our 6 year old son who is on the milder end of the autism spectrum. We used the the FastPass system AND had the GAC as backup in case of a meltdown (we called it the "nuclear option"). We specified that the services that we needed were assistance getting out of the line in case of a meltdown and the ability to go to the front of that line once our son had calmed down.

    We were lucky that we didn't need to use the GAC (probably because my son got fixated on the Monorail, which has no lines) but it was nice to have the backup system. It eased our minds and allowed us all to relax.

    We're lucky, in that our son has the ability to tolerate crowds, lines and noises up to a certain point and we can redirect him to other activities fairly easily . Not all children with autism have that ability. The DAS system will do eff-all for them and they will simply not be able to go to Disneyland anymore. That's a damn shame.

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  6. I think Disney has made a truly terrible business decision is getting rid of the GAC -- there are tons of families with a member with SN that are loyal, repeat customers.

    On the other hand, my understanding is that the GAC wasn't intended as a skip to the front of the line pass (though it did seem to work that way for many families) -- it was simply to accommodate those with special needs, by letting them use a separate entrance, or wait in an air conditioned room instead of outside in a hot, long line.

    Also, based on what you've written it sounds like your kiddo got to go on many MORE (not fewer) rides than the "average" Disney visitor (5x star tours, 4x nemo, screaming coaster 2x, etc) -- those are all super popular rides that have a 1 hr wait each. Or am I missing something?

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    1. You are missing the fact that he can't spend as much time at the park as non-disabled, non-autistic people due to his need for sensory breaks and because of occasional meltdowns, and so gets fewer rides in general. But heavens forbid that disability accommodations actually slightly benefit anyone -- he definitely deserves to have his GAC taken away in that case.

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    2. Sandee2:33 PM

      What you want is PREFERENTIAL access to rides for your child, not an ADA-mandated accommodation.

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    3. ADA accommodations don't currently effectively accommodate people with autism and other disabilities that make waiting in lines difficult. And this isn't just about my kid -- he's got plenty of company. All-ages company.

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    4. Sandee6:19 PM

      Then the issue isn't really with Disney -- it is with the ADA. Which would require a legislative amendment in order to meet the needs of your son and others on the spectrum.

      In the meantime, you're kind of screwed -- Disney can only be required to comply with the ADA as it is currently written, so what you want / what you believe your son needs is indeed preferential treatment.

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    5. Disney created the preferential treatment precedent. And they're changing it not to help disabled people access the park better, but because non-disabled people are pissed about playground-style fairness rather than *actual* fair treatment.

      What a delightful person you must be, to relish pointing out to a disabled child and his family that they are "screwed."

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    6. Wow what a peach we have here.

      You gunna write that ADA amendment, Sandee? Or just be all HA HA PEOPLE WITH INVISIBLE DISABILITIES ARE SCREWED?

      Cuz we already know we are screwed. The world makes sure we know that we are screwed. We're fakers or we're crybabies or we need hit more or 'you don't look sick' or 'your kid looks fine' or whatever.

      We KNOW. Disney was one of the very few places who was doing what is right because it was right, not because the law made them (they didn't even need sued into it! ohmigosh! so many places do!) but because it was RIGHT. It was like they understood that disability usually = staying shorter, getting tired or overwhelmed or needing long breaks.

      But then people had to be jerks.

      (also ADA actually mandates reasonable accomodation. letting people who have a hard time have what looks like preferential treatment unless you actually know something about disability is free to them, and thus reasonable. and it averages out in the end. It really, really does)

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    7. Sandy wrote,

      "Also, based on what you've written it sounds like your kiddo got to go on many MORE (not fewer) rides than the "average" Disney visitor (5x star tours, 4x nemo, screaming coaster 2x, etc) -- those are all super popular rides that have a 1 hr wait each. Or am I missing something?"

      Why yes, you are. The Rosa family visit to Disneyland in 2011 was mid-week, in November, a few weeks before Thanksgiving.

      Say, you know what? Our family's last visit to the Magic Kingdom was also in the off-off-season -- midweek in October. We have no disabled family members, and so no special pass. We rode the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction 5 times in 3 hours, went through the Haunted Mansion 3 times, and rode the Indiana Jones ride 3 times in a row and 6 times in our two-day stay.

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    8. The accommodations you seem to feel entitled to extend far beyond what the ADA requires. While it would certainly be a good business strategy to continue to provide GAC passes to families of kids with disabilities poorly served by the ADA, they aren't required to provide them. Not are kids with autism entitled to receive them.

      My last trip to Disney was last year, a week or so after thanksgiving (low season) and never managed to hit more than 7-8 rides in a 10 hr at the park day.

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    9. Most people reading about Leo's experience at Disneyland would realize that we are grateful for the wonderful experiences we've had -- due to a precedent Disney created -- and that we're crushed they're being taken away, given how rare such wonderful experiences are. I don't know why you can't pull that massive stick out of your ass, but as you can't, I'll be deleting your future comments and wondering about what kind of person trolls at the expense of people with disabilities.

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    10. Sandee: What an obnoxious individual you are. With your condescending, passive/aggressive comments. Why are you even commenting on this? This clearly doesn't affect you.

      This isn't about what's required by law, this is about Disney completely dropping the ball because some people were gaming the system. They had a system in place that helped those who needed help the most.

      Disney was the one place we could go, where the worry of a "scene" was lessened by their gracious hospitality. If wanting my 5 year old daughter to actually be able to enjoy her favorite place on earth is feeling of an entitlement, then guilty as charged.

      I'll tell you what. I will never support Autism Speaks. They were part of this whole DAS fiasco. I don't know what idiots over there thought taking an autistic child to a ride only to tell them they have to come back later was a good idea, or that you can only get one pass at a time so if your pass is not for an hour, too bad, but they can shove their blue lights up their...

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  7. Anonymous9:13 PM

    We just got back from Disneyland. We go every year for my autistic son's birthday. It was one of the few places, with help, that he could handle. We don't get to go to movies or restaurants, and now we won't be able to go to Disneyland. The Fast Pass was closed on one ride and we had to come back in an hour. We wandered around in the heat and it was not good. I didn't know that would be the future way. I'm so sad that he can't go there for his birthday anymore.

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  8. Anonymous10:31 AM

    There is NO WAY we can take our family to Disneyland again because of this change. My son loves Disneyland, but he is on the more severe side of the autism spectrum. When we visit the parks, we usually go at night only and spend most of the day at the hotel.

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  9. Anonymous9:43 PM

    Rebecca Goddard is quoted as saying in another article that she takes her autism child to Disney once a week, that's 52x in one year! Most average kids get experience Disney once or twice a year (if they are lucky) and then have to wait in 90-120 minute lines. This only allows for a 4-5 rides in a day for most families. What is the fairness for them? I've been to Disney and seen a conga line at the guest services office every time. And when you are in line and seeing 20 people in a group with one grandmother in a wheelchair cutting in line, it get's frustrating.

    Disney isn't asking you to wait in line, only to come back at a certain time. If you don't like that ,than I would suggest that the only other fair way is to allow families like yours to skip the lines, but only allowed to experience each ride once only and to limit the amount of people in your group to four.

    It may not be fair to you, but it's fair to the rest of us.

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    1. Oh hi, brave Anonymous. I found the original source for the Rebecca Goddard quote. Did you notice that Ms. Goddard's family lives within an easy driving distance to Disneyland?

      Here's what she said in the original post:

      "My children's birthdays are the same week as Christmas. So this year we took all their birthday money and Christmas presents from our family and friends and became annual passholders at Disneyland Resort. I feel blessed and fortunate that we can do this for our kids."

      Kind of makes it look different, doesn't it?

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    2. I forgot to post the link to Ms. Goddard's original article. It's here:

      http://missionviejo.patch.com/groups/rebecca-goddards-blog/p/bp--the-most-unaware-people-on-earth-at-the-happiest-1bce5433d5

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    3. Anonymous11:01 PM

      Here is the original story where she is quoted as saying:

      "Rebecca Goddard says she takes her sons, ages 4 and 6 once a week"


      http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2013/09/24/disney-changing-line-jumping-program-for-disabled/

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    4. "And when you are in line and seeing 20 people in a group with one grandmother in a wheelchair cutting in line, it get's frustrating." The statement of an ignorant churl. Disney listening to people like you who don't actually know what they are talking about is the problem.

      The GAC was always limited to a party of 6 or fewer, and yes, Grandma deserves accommodation. We'll probably all be disabled eventually, you know. Wait 'til you're in Grandma's position and then see how you feel about such "conveniences."

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    5. Anonymous7:14 AM

      Shannon,

      You may not agree, but to me taking your child once a week to Disney or in your case letting him ride the same popular rides multiple times that many families have wait hours to ride, is abusing the system. Disney isn't your own personal park. Disney belongs to all of us and until they change the HIPPA laws to allow Disney to distinguish the truly needy, this is the best they can do.

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    6. You don't get it, obviously, and it won't matter how many times we explain it to you. All I can do is hope that you eventually acquire compassion, and in the meantime learn to shut your gob instead of letting your ignorance flag fly.

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    7. Anon that isnt abuse. Not by my standards. Plus, Shannon knows Disney isnt her owns, nowhere does she state she owns Disney in the article.

      As Shannon says, we are all 1 move away from disability- thats how common disabilities are, I'm afraid. Why dont you take a child with autism to a place like Disney, then? Maybe you wont be so sure that what Shannon's boy does is *abuse*.

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  10. This change makes it so that I may never be able to visit Disneyland with my family. And I have a 4 year old typical girl who would love to go...but if I can't bring my son, that means not only does he miss out on the experience, but that she might as well (or my husband or I has to miss my daughter's first trip to Disneyland).

    When my brother had partial paralysis from brain surgery, he got a handicap parking placard. Sure it was nice to be able to use those close spots when I was his driver. But you better believe we both would have traded anything to not have to use them. And if the shorter lines is the "benefit" that someone with a disability earns by living with the very real challenges they face just to live in the world every day, maybe Sandee and others should just be thankful they don't need that benefit.

    Of course, that's not really what this is about. It is about an accommodation that allows access to many. It doesn't have to be about the law - how about doing what is right?

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    1. "Doing what is right." Exactly. And I know exactly what you mean about those parking passes, as I lost my dad to cancer a few years ago -- he loved using the passes, but hell no his illness wasn't worth the convenience.

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  11. Lesley Noble6:19 AM

    We have had good luck on two visits to Great Wolf Lodge with my son.

    Pros are: we can drive there. The space is fairly small and enclosed. We stay in the lodge so no parking lots and no entrances or exits once my husband has checked in. We can keep food in our room. There is often a short line for something.

    Specifics to us: my son adores water, he doesn't mind having water spray on him unexpectedly, he doesn't mind the extremely loud background noise, he doesn't mind the bustle of people.

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  12. Lesley Noble6:27 AM

    I forgot -- in Texas they required a life jacket and he did scream every time we put it on him. But once he was in the water he didn't mind it. In Kansas City they don't require a life jacket.

    I am very disappointed in the change at Disneyland. Because my son seems to be mostly hyposensitive to sensory things, we have got a lot of options that are not available, and the fact that he likes water spraying him or pouring on him is necessary for GWL. I think it is really sad that Disneyland may not be an option for people who could go there but not other places.

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    1. I share your disappointment. They don't seem to be making these changes for the right reasons.

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  13. An interesting debate.

    We live in California. When I tell people that I've never taken either / both my autistic sons to Disney I'm surprised we're not investigated by House Committee on Un-American Activities and hurled out of the States.

    When I try to explain about 'waiting in lines,' everyone cheerily tells me that this 'problem' has been solved and we're entitled to a pass that will dissolve all/some difficulties.

    I don't envy you having to do a cost / benefit analysis of a trip to Disney for Leo, but for my family, the "pass" is only one tiny element, a bonus and a plus point, but still only one factor.

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    1. Maddy, understood. I haven't really gone into detail about our other factors, because they've become routine. Such as, we use the projected park attendance calendar and only go on the least crowded days. No summer, no holidays. Ever. We have to stay onsite, because without a safe space to retreat to, we can't go. I have to have another adult with me. It's understood that we may have to leave at any time. There are certain rides we just can't go on - indiana jones, tower of terror, pirates of the Caribbean - because the GAC access is essentially Fastpass access, and those lines are still too long for us. I could go on but was trying to keep it simple: complicating disabled access is bad verging on cruel.

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  14. Anonymous6:59 PM

    While I have sympathy for the families of autistic children, letting them jump to the front of every line, and allowing them to ride the same ride repeatedly while others continue to wait is just wrong, IMO. If a child can't deal well with lines, crowds, heat and noise, a hot, crowded, noisy theme park with long lines doesn't seem like a very good choice.

    The new process seems to be a fair compromise, allowing autistic children to still ride without waiting in long lines, while not making other children wait longer just to give them front of the line access.

    No one is taking Disney away from these kids, unless the parents, some of whom appear to be so spoiled with something that was never supposed to be front of the line access, decide that they don't want to wait the same amount of time as everyone else.

    In the final analysis, autistic kids are no more special than any other kids.

    BeeGees

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    1. I believe I will save this comment as an example of just how balls-out ignorant & self-righteous people can be when it comes to autism and accommodation. Thank you.

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  15. Any further comments about 'fairness' will be deleted. Leo wouldn't be in this situation were it weren't for the self-designated Fairness Police.

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  16. I have 2 asd kids and am going to disney in December, I am devastated that they are doing away with the GAC and I have visions of my dream holiday turning into the holiday from hell. The vast majority of families with disabled youngsters are truely grateful for the assistance this card gives to enable us to enjoy a holiday just like every other family. My daughter would want to ride the cars over and over again, but I didn't let her as I felt it was abusing the privelage that Disney gave our family, plus it was not fair to all the families that had to line up for 1 1/2 hours to a ride that we walked on within minutes. However , I want to state that I'd give everything I have to be one of those families that had to stand in line for 1 1/2 hours!

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  17. Waah! Waaaaaah! You stupid twat. I'm glad you and your shitty kid have to wait longer now. Get over yourself.

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  18. The GAC system was completely unsustainable. Period. There is no arguing this unless you have inside knowledge as I do of what the service was causing. While not perfect, DAS is a common sense solution to a difficult problem.

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    1. I understand that. But it seems that the changes were made not to benefit disabled people but to stop fraud. The DAS may hamper fraud, but it will also complicate visits for disabled visitors. I will wait to hear back from folks in our community about how the DAS works for them, and am hoping for the best.

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  19. Are people seriously arguing that kids with physical or neurological disabilities/delays essentially should not be permitted at Disneyland? Because sometimes, maybe, a kid in a wheelchair gets an 'extra' ride on a rollercoaster? My brain hurts.

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    1. A few jackasses are misinterpreting accommodation as unfair advantage. Most people are cool, and get how much those accommodations mean to disabled adults and kids who could otherwise not go to Disneyland.

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  20. and do people really not think that your kid who maybe doesnt get an extra ride on the rollercoaster or whatever because Leo does (as if that's simple) doesnt get ten thousand advantages that you don't ever think of every single day? I think people don't realize how freakin' HARD the world can be for kids who are autistic. So let them have some extra turns on the goddamn rides, you know?

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    1. I feel sorry for mean people. Y'know? They have to live with themselves.

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  21. From a Disney fan site I frequent, perhaps this will be helpful to someone:

    "Coming soon - Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities
    I posted this in the thread about the DAS (Disability Access Service) Cards, but thought I would also post it here in case people missed it there.

    There will be a WDW version and a Disneyland version.
    These are booklets being developed by Disney with information that should be especially helpful for people visiting with cognitive or neurologic disabilities. They will be available as a printed copy at the parks and as an electronic version on the Disney World/Disneyland websites.
    (Guests could download or print it from the internet)

    Helpful information about attractions will include:
    - duration of attraction
    - sensory information about attractions (sights, smells, sounds)
    - some general touring hints

    These sound like they will be an awesome resource
    I will share more about this as I get more information."

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    1. More helpful info from Ellen at Love That Max: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152258124364517&set=a.10150345591959517.424651.206112039516&type=1

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  22. Lucky you, you got what you wanted - NT kids will continue to wait longer for rides so that Leo can skip to the front of the line with no wait and ride as many times as he wants.

    They might as well not even change the program, because they're going to allow the most egregious abuses to continue.

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    1. Woot for Leo, and you can go to hell.

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Respectful disagreement encouraged.

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