By April 5, 2014 0 Comments Read More →

Disney removes obstacles for theme park visitors

The Great Pyramids and the Taj Mahal are among the top tourist destinations in the world, but they can’t compete on sheer volume with Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where an estimated 52.5 million travelers flock each year.

Nor can the pyramids or the Taj boast that they go out of their way to accommodate those with disabilities, ranging from paralysis to hearing difficulties to autism. Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland, its counterpart on the West Coast, may be the most accommodating of all worldwide visitor attractions, with amenities that include:

• Wheelchair rentals ($12 per day); and Electronic Conveyance Vehicle (ECV) rentals ($70 per day, including $20 deposit returned at end of day)

• Braille maps in all parks

• Sign language interpreters and hearing assistance devices available free on a scheduled basis

• Accommodations for service dogs at certain attractions

• A special “transfer-practice” area at one high-speed attraction that gives wheelchair users a chance to try shifting laterally from their wheelchairs to the ride vehicle to make sure they feel comfortable with the transition

Part of this is simply good salesmanship. It would be impossible for most disabled travelers to enjoy theme parks without special accommodations. Disney World itself covers 43 square miles, the size of many cities. Visitors can use Disney’s free internal system of buses and trams to travel from one attraction to another, of course, but for those with mobility limitations, a wheelchair or scooter is a must.

Guidebooks for each of the theme parks, including Epcot, give specific information on how and where to rent wheelchairs and Electronic Conveyance Vehicles (ECVs); services for those with visual disabilities; assistance for those with hearing difficulties (including sign language interpreters), and information on service animals:

Despite these efforts, Disney drew heavy criticism from disabled advocates last year when it changed its policy on access to attractions, where long lines can sometimes stretch for two to three hours. Under the old policy, guests with a disability automatically received a Guest Assistance Card (GAC), which allowed them to be ushered to the front of any line.

Reported abuses of the system, especially by able-bodied tourists who used the cards to cut lines, led Disney to revoke the head-of-the-line policy. According to Robert Niles, founder and editor of, it was not only abuse of the system that prompted the change, but that the old access card “was used too much by people with disabilities.”

The previous access policy made Disney so attractive for millions of people with disabilities that it had become a preferred entertainment destination, according to Niles, and the system simply got overwhelmed.

As many as 2,000 of the old GAC cards were being issued on busy days at the two Disney parks on the East and West coasts, according to Mice Chat, an unofficial Disney blog, meaning that at least 10 percent of park visitors daily, and up to a quarter of those on some rides, were able to skip to the head of queues.

Its many efforts to offer special services still make the theme park a desirable attraction. Under the new policy, Disney now provides a Disability Access Service (DAS) card, which gives the holder the option of going elsewhere and returning at the appointed time, or waiting in a special, unrestricted area. DAS cards are not issued in advance. Visitors must check in at a Guest Relations desk when they enter a park. For complete details on the DAS cards, see:

The card is not designed for those using wheelchairs or scooters, because they can simply wait in a line or get a Disney FASTPASS, which entitles anyone to secure a later time for an attraction and return at that time.

Fastpass + is a new offering available with your ticket, package or annual pass, which permits visitors to reserve attraction times in advance. See more about Fastpass+:


According to a Disney spokeswoman, not everyone qualifies for the new DAS card. She said decisions are made on a “case by case” basis when visitors request the card at a Guest Relations desk. For a personal experience with this new policy, see

Does my husband qualify for special access?

Perhaps one of the more unusual accommodations at Disney is the extensive service for those with autism or other cognitive disabilities. Along with the usual stroller and wheelchair availability, services include break areas for those who become over-stimulated; companion restrooms, which are larger and accommodate more than one person; attraction guides, which give information on special effects that may be disturbing, such as loud noises, flashing lights or periods of darkness; and even dietary accommodations at Disney restaurants for such needs as food allergies or special diets.

For details on all special services for autism and cognitive disabilities, see


Among the more unusual tips from Disney:

It is recommended that you take a photo of the guest with a cognitive disability on your mobile device or digital camera, especially if he or she has a tendency to wander off. You may also consider making a nametag that includes his or her name, as well as your name and mobile phone number.

Tips such as these are useful for planning a Walt Disney World vacation in advance—a strategy highly recommended for a theme park so popular that it sells more than three million mouse hats and nine million French fries every year. See

Insider tips for a smooth Disney ride

Posted in: Amusement parks

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