Across the country, parents of children with disabilities are reacting with alarm to news that Disney will soon end its “Guest Assistance Card” program. Some have launched online petitions and letter-writing campaigns, reports the Seattle Times.
“Some parents say waiting for an extended period of time, even if they don’t have to stand in a crowded queue, is not practical for their children. Some cannot mentally
process why they can’t ride immediately. Others must be on rigid schedules for food, medicine or even bathroom breaks. Some can be in the parks for only two or three hours before their child becomes exhausted or has a meltdown.
“This is going to be a huge obstacle for my son,” said Brad Doyle, 49, of Glendale, Ariz., who has taken his son many times to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. “I really have to rethink my whole vacation now.”
“Disney says it is sympathetic to their concerns. But it also says it must make changes to a program now being widely exploited by others.
“Stories of wealthy families hiring disabled tour guides to pose as family members have drawn national attention and scorn. But the more common abuse is subtler: people faking hard-to-verify handicaps such as heart murmurs, back spasms or claustrophobia; or groups using a pass issued to an elderly relative to jump the lines for thrill rides that the relative can’t or won’t ride.
“The abuse has intensified in recent years, fueled by swelling crowds in Disney’s theme parks, which draw tens of millions of visitors a year. Soon after the opening of the popular Cars Land in Disney California Adventure last year, Disney found that close to a quarter of all the visitors riding Radiator Springs Racers — 5,000 out of 20,000 on average per day — were using a Guest Assistance Card, according to MiceChat.com, a website devoted to Disney theme-park news. Most were also annual-pass holders.
“Disney won’t provide specific figures. But it says that it now gets hundreds of thousands of requests annually for guest-assistance cards, and that the number of people asking for them has grown “substantially” during the past few years. Disney says it remains committed to making disabled visitors welcome in its parks.
“Unfortunately, our current program has been abused and exploited to such an extent that we are no longer able to effectively sustain it in its present form,” Meg Crofton, president of Disney’s theme-park operations in the U.S. and France, said Friday in an open letter to disability-related organizations. “We have long recognized that people may have different needs, and we will continue to work individually with our Guests with disabilities to provide assistance that is responsive to their unique circumstances.”