Dear Disney, I’m sorry.

February 10, 2014

Let’s talk about this Disney issue, shall we? Some background…

Disney recently changed their policy for disabled guests. For about the last ten years, up until this past October, a disabled individual could get a Disney “Guest Assistance Pass” (GAP). The pass allowed that person and their family to skip the lines and get on a ride without a wait.

This system was tremendously abused.

Because of the abuse (and following the tough-to-ignore exposé on Today), Disney replaced the GAP system with a Disability Access Service Card (DAS) .  The DAS works like a Fast Pass.  Families with a DAS do not move to the head of the line, but make a reservation for a ride, and come back at the given time.  

The special needs community has been up in arms. In the last few months, Disney has morphed from Cinderella into Cruella de Vil.

Guys, we’re mad at the wrong people.

Disney’s original program was a gift.  It went above and beyond what any law required, was created by accident, and yet Disney gave this gift to people with special needs and their families so they could get maximum enjoyment from the parks. (Want more background? Here.) And what happened?  People who could get the passes “rented” themselves out to able-bodied families, and off they all traipsed through the Magical Kingdom, skipping lines.  These people took Disney’s gift, and then kicked Disney right in the mouth with it.  And now we, the special needs community, are trying to demonize Disney?  C’mon. 

I do understand the effect this new system has on special needs guests.  I really do. In fact, Disney’s new system effectively prevents my family from taking a Disney vacation.  My son could manage a Disney park using this new system about as well as I could manage skydiving with a parachute made of mesh.  And I am plenty mad about it. I’m just not mad at Disney.

I am mad at the people who capitalized on Disney’s generosity.  My sword is not aimed at Disney, but at the people who actually stole Disney from special needs kids.  I am mad at every disabled person who acted as a rent-a-guide, every family that paid for this service, and every person who waltzed up to Guest Services and faked a disability. These are the bad guys, folks.  Feel free to disagree, but from what I can tell, Disney had a much-publicized problem to resolve, worked with the nation’s leading disability advocacy groups to do so, and designed a legally-compliant, workable system that the criminally-minded and selfish can’t hack as easily.  Is it as good as it was before? Nope. But we don’t get to blame Disney for having to fix a problem that it didn’t create.

(I read more than one article whose authors believed that the actions of the people who abused the system for personal profit were justified because there are not enough opportunities for the disabled in the workplace.  Are you kidding me?  Well, good.  I will tell my son that if he can’t find a job later on, it is okay for him to become morally bankrupt.  Kiddo, forget all the awareness-raising efforts of the last few decades that are paving the way for more employment opportunities for you, just go rob a bank. Apparently, we will all blame the bank anyway.)

To the people who sold out for personal gain? Shame on you. You owe every single kid who just lost a dream vacation an apology. You owe all the parents who have to break their kids’ hearts an apology.  You have a lot of karma to make up, my friends.

To the rest of us? I think we owe Disney an apology.


Disney’s DAS Card Fact Sheet:
Wheelchair Mickey


  1. Stacey Presley

    Becca, I can totally understand what you are saying. However if you do further searching into the matter you find that their former system was also broken, meaning it was open up to fraud from all aspects. Not only were people hiring the disabled, CMs were giving the GAC to friends and or selling them. For me, I am not angry at Disney for changing their policy. I agree it was beyond the call of accommodations and because it was so easy to fraud the system, so yes that needed to be changed. I am angry with Disney because of the way it was handled. They have done little to change the ability to fraud the system and if you read some of the stuff on the internet, blogs message boards, etc you will see this. The picture added to the DAS is the only thing that really eliminates the fraud. Many years ago, I haven’t been lately so I don’t know if this still exists, but Magic Mountain (CA) used to have signs posted throughout the park that if you cut in line you will be removed from the park. Now that is taking action! Disney has punished the disabled rather than those who violated the system, Is that fair? The non- disabled that used to get a GAC, some still are, now are still enjoying the park they just have to stand in line longer. Shortly after the change and very frustrated with the system, I asked the question that had been driving me crazy. “What happened to someone who was caught in the act of abusing the system?” In other words if they see a teenager (this actually was seen) jump out of the wheelchair and tell their buddy “Your turn to be in the wheelchair.” What would happen to these guys? Becca, what would you guess? When I asked a Disney Guest Services CM this question she was hesitant to answer, I then continued saying “Would these guys get kicked out of the park, or what?” She actually chuckled at that question, which of course made the hair on the back of my neck stand up! ” No absolutely not, we rarely kick anyone out of the park, we would just take away their GAC.” So what has happened is people like that get a slap on the wrist, if even that, and get to continue to enjoy the magic while those of us who need it like my child, are kicked out of the park. ( No not actually, kicked out but the fact that the DAS has made it difficult or impossible to go to the park, in theory we are! So that is why I am angry, and blame Disney. Parents have shared their experiences and offered suggestions on deaf mickey ears. It is very sad and unfortunate! Thank you Becca!

    • Rebecca Masterson

      I love an eloquent, thoughtful comment! (I really, really do.) Thank you!

      I did research the issue of whether Disney punished fraudulent pass users. Unfortunately, because I am trying to write an essay and not a novel (ha), I was forced to limit how much of my total research (which was a ton) made it into this post. What I learned was that Disney employees were instructed not to question disability pass users because of liability concerns. I get this. If employees are put in the position of determining who is “really disabled,” and who is not, Disney just opened themselves up to a host of lawsuits. I’m not saying it’s fair, but that’s our legal system. I can’t fault Disney for not calling out guests that they think are abusing the pass because, as you and I know, not every disabled person is in a wheelchair.

      There will always be a way to defraud any system, anywhere. My understanding is that with the DAS, it is tougher to do. Further, people aren’t as excited to scam a DAS when it doesn’t eliminate lines. Is it perfect? Not at all.

      Disney is in a lose-lose position. They can’t go back to the old system, they can’t ask for verification of disabilities, and they can’t ask their employees to gauge who is disabled and who is not. All I read are problems and complaints. What are the solutions we, as a special needs community, are offering? Or are we just complaining, pointing the finger and threatening litigation? I wouldn’t come to that table either, if I were Disney.

      I entered this issue with an open mind, and love the discussion! I absolutely value your thoughts. My hope is that a solution to this issue can be reached (assuming the DAS isn’t the final word), and that it doesn’t involve years and years of costly litigation.


      • Rebecca Masterson

        p.s. I just gave you mad props on Facebook. You go, girl!

  2. Nicole LeBlanc

    I hope one day to get to Disney, my 6 yr old son is ASD. I truly believe that we can still go someday. It will require a lot more planning and organizing and ensuring that we are prepared to entertain both my son and daughter who is NT. I honestly think she’ll be the more difficult:)

    You are right though we had something amazing offered by Disney and now we’re mad that they had to take it away. When they still had it I thought that it may make Disney a little easier but felt guilty as well, knowing that my son is easily entertained, so I would feel as though I was a cheater.

    Maybe I have my head in the clouds, but I do think it is still possible to enjoy a great family vacation at Disney with my kids!

    • Rebecca Masterson

      Nicole, thank you for the comment! I’m not ruling it out – but you’re right, it will take lots more planning. But if there is one thing we moms are pretty good at…it’s planning.

  3. Brenda Rhodes

    Finally…someone that can see the forest for the trees!! Thank you! You, my friend, have your priorities straight.

    Brenda Rhodes-Sent from my iPad


  4. Tania

    I have been in constant contact with Disney DAS services preparing for our WDW vacation in May. My son is 8 with Down Syndrome and a year out from leukemia treatment. He has low endurance, heat intolerance. I am worried, but trying to be open minded. We used the DAS once when he was 3 and then Nate’s Make a Wish trip was last year. We can plan, but sometimes my best laid plans are thwarted by Nate and what he needs, etc. I am trying to be helpful and have made suggestions to Disney. I am hoping that by May, there are further changes to the system. I do feel like my son has been punished by the violators of the system. In our world, Nate is the child that doesn’t get invited to parties, has very few close friends. At Disney, he was special… that has been taken away. I hope some of the magic comes back for my son and other “special” kids like him. I appreciate your point of view and will continue to communicate openly with Disney to try and amend the system at hand.

  5. Tara Paisley

    As a frequent Disney visitor with a child with autism, I truly think that there is a better way. Something that is between what they had and what they have now. Maybe they could allow guests with this pass to put more than one time at a time on it. I am glad that they put the picture on it.
    For those that are coming from out of state, investigate the use of the fast pass plus in conjunction with this pass. It may allow you to enjoy more of the park.


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