Disney Changes Its Disabled Guest Access Policy

Long line at It's A Small World.

Not long ago, I reported on the abuse of Disney Parks' disabled guest access policy. Under the policy in place, able bodied guests hired disabled "tour guides" to get them to the front of lines. Disney has reviewed the policy, and they are making changes effective October 9:

Under the change, visitors will be issued tickets with a return time and a shorter wait similar to the FastPass system that's offered to everyone.

Currently, visitors unable to wait in the regular line can get backdoor access to rides or go through the exit and wait in a shorter line.

The system "certainly has been problematic, and we wanted to curb some of the abuse of this system," Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown told the Orange County Register.

The move was a response to the phenomenon of disabled "tour guides" who charge money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, to accompany able-bodied guests and allow them to avoid long lines. Others who don't have a disability have been able to get an assistance card since no proof of disability is required.

"Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing accommodations for guests with disabilities," Brown said in a statement.

This news comes as a welcome development to those of us longtime Disney fans who have witnessed such abuses. However, the policy has upset some parents of children with special needs.

Rebecca Goddard said she takes her sons, ages 4 and 6, to Disneyland once a week. They have autism and can't stand in lines longer than a few minutes before they start pushing other people.

"My boys don't have the cognition to understand why it's going to be a long wait," Goddard told the Register. "There are so few things for my boys that bring them utter joy and happiness — to mess with it just makes me sad."

Advocacy organizations are taking more of a wait-and-see approach to the change.

The advocacy group Autism Speaks consulted with Walt Disney Co. officials on the change and urged parents to see how it unfolds.

"Change is difficult," said Matt Asner, executive director of the Southern California chapter. "I didn't want it to change, but I understand there was an issue that needed to be dealt with."

I for one am glad to see Disney take steps to combat the abuse. I'll be at Walt Disney World the week the changes take effect, and I will be watching to see how if affects the daily operations at the parks.