For many years, Disney California and Walt Disney World has operated their free Guest Assistance Card (GAC) programme which allows families with special needs to bypass the normal queues at the attractions and enter the attraction through either the FastPass line or through a special entrance, effectively allowing them to be seated without any significant wait time on many attractions.
However as is so common these days a number of ignorant and selfish people have abused the system to such an extent that from October 9, 2013 Disney are changing the rules.
Original Disney Guest Assistance Card
With the original Disney Guest Assistance Card, you could visit Guest Services and the person with special needs could get a card which then entitled them and a party of up to 6 other individuals to bypass the queues at the rides.
Disney does not make any checks as to the validity of the request. With the current Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) rules to protect patient information, that might be problematic anyway.
This has resulted in unscrupulous guests exploiting the system and either pretending to have disabilities or even going so far as to hiring “disabled” people to allow the group to acquire the access card and then take advantage of the queue jumping.
Having an elderly relative in a wheelchair would allow younger members to queue jump thrill rides that the elderly person would not even contemplate riding themselves. According to the MiceChat.com website around one quarter of all riders on the newly opened Cars Land at Disney California Adventure had Guest Assistance Cards and most of them were annual pass holders.
And it is not just theme parks that are subject to this kind of abuse. Many airports and airlines are also suffering from an increasing number of people claiming the need for wheelchair assistance in order to queue jump the security checks and boarding lines at the gates.
New Disney Disability Access Service Card
Disney has seen a dramatic increase in the number of requests for cards. To try and address this, Disney has replaced the Guest Assistance Card by the Disability Access Service Card. Guests are still issued with a free card but it is now only valid for 7 days (the previous card was valid for 14 days) and the new cards also have photo ID.
The big change though is at the attractions. When arriving at an attraction, instead of being given immediate access, the party are given a return time (much like FastPass) based on the current wait time. Guests then return at the allotted return time and are still able to enter the attraction without actually waiting in the normal line but effectively they no longer have any advantage over the other park guests.
The new Disney policy brings them more in line with the policy at both Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
Parents, particularly those with autistic children who may be unable to cope with queuing or simply waiting, have been up in arms about this change in policy and there have been many comments posted on the Disney blogs.
It is also worth noting that on some attractions, using the original Guest Assistance Card could actually result in a longer wait. For health and safety reasons some attractions have to limit the number of less than abled bodied guests at any one time for evacuation purposes and as a result guests trying to access the attraction using the card have had to wait longer than the normal line.