Mar 25, 2013 7 Share

The Happiest Place on Earth


NIght photo of crowds in Disney World with castle and spotlights.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

I am now officially the parent of an adult child. Cameron has reached the age of majority. And how are we celebrating? Like any star athlete would after winning the championship: We're going to Disney World. (The lack of exclamation mark was not an editorial mistake.)  As a matter of fact, as you're reading this, there's a very good chance that Cameron and I are standing in line. And when you finish reading this, we'll be standing in line. And when you come back in a few hours to read this compelling column aloud over the phone to your BFF, we'll be standing in line. 

Last week I had lunch with a group of moms from Cameron's school. We were all discussing our Spring Break plans. When my Disney trip came up I received some interesting advice. It wasn't about where to stay or what attractions to hit before the crowds get too bad. The advice was to get a letter from Cameron's doctor stating that he has autism and could not tolerate standing in line, and then take the letter to guest services at Disney. We would be issued a pass to go to the head of all the lines without question. Hmmm ... 

I went home and did some online research to find out exactly what documentation I needed in order to be granted this magic pass to the Magic Kingdom. As I was reading firsthand accounts of the accommodations that theme parks offer guests with disabilities, that sound of the needle being ripped from the record went off in my head. Wait a minute! Who has the frustration tolerance issue with waiting in lines? Is it Cameron ... or is it me? Cameron has been to Disney World before and he managed just fine waiting in line with the rest of the guests, thank you very much. Why would I want to take advantage of a company's good will towards guests with disabilities by fudging on what Cameron needs? I know there are plenty of guests that truly need the accommodations offered, but Cameron isn't one of them. I'll stand in the humid, sticky Florida sun with the masses of humanity and see which gets more attention: the growing mound of frizzy hair on my head or the chirping noises and flapping from Cameron.

So, thank you to Disney and other companies that make these accommodations for guests who need them. Policies like this enable families to have dream vacations that would otherwise be a nightmare. I am happy that my family does not need your gracious accommodations. And I promise I will never, ever roll my eyes when someone is escorted to the front of the line. Now, my eyes might roll a smidge if someone in that guest's party is sporting an inappropriate garment, carefully selected to display an inappropriate tattoo. We all have our frustration tolerance issues we need to work on. Luckily Cameron does not need special accommodation to deal with his. As far as my own go, I will work on turning the eye roll into a discreet attempt to avert my eyes.



Comment Options

Anonymous

Incorrect information

“The advice was to get a letter from Cameron's doctor stating that he has autism and could not tolerate standing in line, and then take the letter to guest services at Disney. We would be issued a pass to go to the head of all the lines without question.” This is false and inaccurate information. Walt Disney World does not require and will not ask for documentation of a disability, that is against the ADA. A Guest Assistance Card (GAC) is NOT a “magic pass”. The person requesting one would have to talk to a guest relations Cast Member and explain the needs of the person the card will be used for, that person must be present. It is NOT a front of the line pass either. The guest might be getting escorted to a quieter place to wait, they might be going to the end of the fast pass line etc. The only guests allowed to go to the “front of the line” are Make a Wish recepients and other organizations like that. Tracy Brooks

Anonymous

Have a great trip!

I hope that you guys have a fantastic vacation!  I have so many magical memories of Disney with my kids.  Thanks so much for realizing where your limitations lie as compared to your child's and how it effects your family vacation.  Sometimes it's hard to figure out what our needs are vs. wants.  And I promise, I won't take a second glance at your frizzy hair if you promise not to note I look like I'm melting.I find it imoprtant to note (as other commenters have mentioned) that a Guest Assistance Card is not a front of the line pass for any reason. In fact as a user of the GAC for years I can assure your readers that sometimes I've even waited longer than folks in the standard line.  By missing regular the queues you miss out on fun parts of the attractions too, I have a friend who had been going for 30 years and only saw the stretching room in the Haunted Mansion last year after they reworked the queue to ADA standards.  In addition, all GACs are not created equal but are customized (through a variety of stamps) to only allow the guest specific accommodations to their condition. 

Anonymous

Disappointed

When reading your article, I noticed you said you did the online research before you decided that it was not needed in your case. The thing that disappoints me is that you failed to mention this card will NOT get you to the head of any lines, which you would have discovered while researching. So many people are still under this assumption that guests in wheelchairs, ECVs or using a GAC card get this head of the line treatment and it causes many of them to accuse people without "visable" disabilities of being lazy or trying to beat the lines. I wish more people would take the time to learn how these cards are really used and dispel the notion to others when they mention moving ahead in line. I wish you had pointed out in your article that the information your friends was wrong.

Anonymous

Disney's Guest Assistance Card

Hello! As an Annual Disney Passholder and the mother of a teen with autism I agree that the Guest Assistance Card is a blessing for guests with "invisible" disabilities like autism. I also agree that our family has needed this accommodation less and less as my son gets older and I get more adept at planning our daily itineraries.What I do NOT agree with is the erroneous statement that the GAC is a "front of the line pass." It never was and never will be. Also, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act,  there is no documentation required to obtain this accommodation... one reason why it has been so terribly abused by many who are, in fact, not disabled.Because of this abuse and continued false perceptions (such as "front of the line" access), Disney is currently examining its Guest Assistance Card system and will, unfortunately, be "reducing the expectations of those using the GAC and creating more restrictions around it."It is ironic that parents of kids who need help managing the extreme sensory stimulation encountered in the Disney theme parks are the ones who are feeling, as you are, somewhat guilty at accepting accommodations in order to enjoy a family vacation while many without any need for it continue to scam the system without any shame whatsoever. Kathy Kellywww.disneylovinspectrummom.com 

Anonymous

Terrible False Assumption about GAC

Hi,  I wanted to also comment that it is a terrible and troubling false assumption among the disabilities community that the GAC allows the holder to "go to the head of all the lines without question." This is not how it works and people should not assume they get to do that.  The GAC allows persons with disabilities and a limited number of their party members to wait in a different line from the stanby line, with that accomodation possibly being a different type of line for different rides.  But we should still expect to wait.  Sometimes for certain rides and depending on crowd levels, the lines may actually be longer than the standby wait times.  It all depends.  But no one should expect that they will go to the head of all the lines.  To me, as a mom with a son with autism, to expect no wait ever when many other families sometimes wait hours for a turn, is rude and prideful.  Our children have disabilities, but that doesn't make families with "typical" children less important than us.  We get some accomodations, but we should have to wait like everyone else.

Anonymous

Thank You

Thank you for thinking this through for your own family.  If more people were as thoughtful as you, many problems for other families who need this accomodation would be eliminated.  I go to Disney World twice a year with my 10 year-old autistic son.  One day I hope we will not need to use the GAC as well.

Anonymous

The Happiest Place on Earth

As a Disney annual pass holder and the mother of three teenage boys with ASD I am very familiar with the “Guest Assistance Card” at Disney. The card does not mean guests are escorted to the front of the line.  It means you stand in a “fast pass” line or “guest with disabilities” line such as people using wheelchairs.   There is no guarantee that a “Guest Assistance Card” will get you through the line quicker.  It is merely an acknowledgement that Disney will do their best to accommodate their guests with disabilities. I am very thankful for the “Guest Assistance Card.”  It allows my three boys with Fragile X/Autism to experience a friendly and inviting social experience that our family can enjoy.  No trip is ever easy and each one filled with challenges, but if they did not have the pass, they would never experience Disney.  As you know, children with autism have a wide range of abilities and disabilities and while some may tolerate waiting in long crowded lines, many others cannot.  Without the “Guest Assistance Card," many children are not able to experience or families have a pleasurable experience at Disney.