Beginning on October 9, 2013, Disney announced the previous Guest Assistance Card (GAC) will be replaced with a new program titled “Disability Assistance System” or DAS. For any family that has used the GAC in the past, they are familiar with the abuses within the system. In May, those abuses were featured in an expose on the Today Show.
In the past the GAC served as a “permanent Fast Pass” during your stay in the park. It was not a guarantee to the front of the line but did allow you and your family the ability to enter the shorter fast pass lane without managing the Fast Pass system. For our family, the GAC was a blessing and truly allowed us a reduced meltdown vacation.
The new DAS system differs in several key areas. The guest applies for a DAS at the guest relations office. A photo of the disabled person using the card will be taken. This person will need to ride the attraction in order to use the card and their photo will be verified at the attraction. Kiosks will be set up around the park and a cast member will then assign a return time based on current wait times (plus or minus travel time.) Only one ride reservation will be given at a time. Shorter wait rides, other fast passes can be used until that time. No longer will it function as an open Fast Pass.
Another change to the system is that wheelchair use does not immediately qualify you for a card or the use of the Fast Pass lane. Most rides are accessible via the standard line and wheelchairs will use those lines.
The DAS will only be used one day at a time. Although if you are staying on property, you can speak to Guest Relations about a length of stay card.
I am familiar with this new system. Cedar Point and Kings Island both used this system in the past. There are pros and cons. A large pro is the abuse of the system will be diminished. For my son and his non-apparent disability as well as my own non-apparent disabilities, I am well aware that we can’t know for sure who is disabled or not. With the HIPPA law in place and Disney unable to verify disability, there were severe abuses to the system. I certainly do not blame Disney for altering their program to cut down on those abuses.
There is also a large con. How do I walk up to a ride and ask my son to turn around and wait 45 minutes? And not expect a meltdown? Not sure that I can. I also find the Fast Pass system confusing and difficult to juggle. My personal non-apparent disability makes standing difficult but I prefer to not use a wheelchair all of the time. To juggle Fast Passes and walk back and forth between rides will make future visits to the park very difficult.
Not really knowing what to expect with the system as I haven’t tried it out at Disney – here are my suggestions to avoid meltdowns.
*use the time return as a tool to teach patience and telling time. Perhaps your child can be the official time keeper with a watch, phone and/or notebook.
*Carry books, tablet or toys to distract for that inevitable wait. There will be snafus such as “I can ride Space Mountain at 1:40pm but the lines for everything else in Tomorrowland are long or Fast Passes are out.” At that point, be patient and look around. Tomorrowland usually has misting stations near Space Mountain. Let your child run around and get wet. Use the time to go the bathroom behind Cosmic Rays or take a cool ride on the Carousel of Progress.
*One of you keeps the tickets. Sounds basic but it will be easy for you to say – run ahead and grab the pass. And before you know it, you each have a pass and no idea where to go when. Keep one person in charge of the passes and times. (If you use the earlier suggestion of a time keeper then they would work together with the child.)
*Maps and Texts/Walkies. When we used the previous system, we did not rely on the map because it did not affect our touring. Time was not important and we could flex around the needs and fatigue of the group. Not so now. Make sure everyone in your group gets a map. If you need to divide and conquer, use the map to create meeting points. Use texts or walkie talkies to communicate in case of delays. So if your child is in the middle of a meltdown because they can’t get in the Laugh Factory right away, then the rest of the group can ride Buzz Lightyear.
*Top Five List. Your children make a top five list of what they want to see the most. Use the list and see them first. Keep to the list and don’t become distracted. At the end of the day, they will be happy they saw what they wanted. Make a list and stick to it.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE, I recommend and encourage families with an autistic child to tour Walt Disney World. I feel my son was at his best when we visited. WDW cast members were incredible with him creating a positive experience for everyone.
This article also appears on http://www.orlandovacation.com and is written by Ann Schlosser, owner autismtravel.com