My family and I had the worst experience so far under this DAS program. I wrote a 4 page email to Disney, which read as such:
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Chris, and I am the proud parent of a child with Autism. We have been bringing our son Caleb since he was 6 months old (we have pics of him at the Brown Derby for his first outing). About the same time he finally could go on rides he was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. While his diagnosis and subsequent therapies and life challenges were difficult, we always had our passes at Disney to bring a smile on his face. All of this changed with the cancellation of the GAC program.
I understand a change was needed due to those who abused the system. It disgusts me that those with the means to pay for your VIP service would cut corners to save a few dollars and hire handicapped guides. However, to turn your back on many groups of people who NEED this program baffles me. How much negative press does your company need to understand your new DAS program doesn’t work? You have groups of paying guests with developmental disabilities who can no longer enjoy your parks. On your site, https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/cognitive-disabilities-services/, your company lists tips on how to have a magical day at the parks. Whoever came up with this has had NO experience with those with cognitive or developmental disabilities. And please do not respond saying Disney consulted with Autism Speaks when coming up with these tips and plans, for Autism Speaks is on record stating that Disney DID come to them, asked for advice, and ignored everything presented to them.
Example of tips from web page : “Reinforcers for Good Behavior”
“A trip to the theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort can be very long. Help promote a full day of fun for the Guest with a cognitive disability by keeping motivational items handy to reinforce his or her good behavior.”
It does not quite work that way. If you have a guest who is hyper focused on a ride, no amount of treats or iPads to distract them will help. You took away the alternative entrance to the rides which allowed guests to bypass any noise or visual overstimulation, because your company feels “ear plugs or headphones may contribute toward a less intense experience for the Guest with a cognitive disability” is good enough. Trust me, it is not good enough.
Now, I want to focus on the event on Monday, February 24th, that led to this email. And let me begin by stating this is not my first bad experience. On your official Facebook page I posted a one star review on the new policy and how it was not working. So I have given the DAS program a try, but Monday’s experience was the point I could not tolerate anymore.
Knowing that our son Caleb only 110% focuses on Toy Story Mania, I went and received a return time on our DAS card, while his mother went another direction with him. At that time I believe it was to return in 40 minutes. That might seem short to others, but it is a lifetime to one who hyper focuses on an item and is hard to distract from that topic. Luckily Star Tours only had a 10 minute wait, so we walked there so I could try to distract him while waiting for our return time. Caleb rode Star Tours in the past when we had the GAC, so I knew he liked it. The big difference was the main line compared to the Fast Pass line. Although the wait was so short, I knew we could not use the Fast Pass line due to having our 1 “official” return time on the card. So we entered the regular line, and that is where the overstimulation began. The noises and lights of the ship being “worked” on by R2-D2 and C-3PO was too much, and he began to immediately cover his ears and try to hide. I called over the female working the Fast Pass line and asked if we could please use the line, for he was scared, and she said “That is fine, but I have to cancel your return time for Toy Story. You know you can only have one time, right?” So, we left the line and the attraction to get him to calm down. I decided to head to Guest Services to voice my concern, and the experience became worse.
When it was my turn to talk to a Guest Services rep, I entered and went to one of the little podiums. I am sorry that I forget the employees name, all I can say is he was of Hispanic heritage, and probably around 6 feet tall. I relayed to him the experience we just had, and he had no empathy what so ever. He actually said “There is nothing we can do, for we followed the ADA guidelines and that is all we are required to do.”
Now please understand, I have waited days for my anger to calm down and focus on the conversation to make sure I did not overdramatize it. I even immediately relayed the conversation to my wife standing outside, and those were the exact words he used.
I then asked him what about those who do not have physical disabilities, but developmental or cognitive disabilities and can’t handle overstimulation. His response “The best we can do is give him earplugs.” Now my blood pressure started to rise. I could literally feel my adrenaline pumping. I told the Guest Services member that it was my understanding Disney wanted feedback on the system, and that I have left feedback before, including in person, email, and via phone, and never received any response on how the DAS was a faulty system. His response “I find it hard to believe no one responded.” Then for no reason he excused himself, saying he would be right back. Upon returning he stated “The good news is I can verify IF you actually did give any kind of feedback.” Now I felt as though he was trying to prove I was bluffing. He began typing my information into some search screen, (I can read upside down from being in the business world with contracts and other documents), and behold some notes popped up. It was a far less amount then I actually submitted, so I can only assume all the little hand written notes I filled out in the parks were not entered in.
And that is when he read the one note that made me have to turn around and leave before I lost my temper. “I see you originally cancelled your annual pass due to your son being sick with autism”. And those were the words, for I read them on the screen. Those words within seconds made me realize your company has NO clue what autism is. Autism is a disability. One does not just catch a case of autism. That is not how it works. And if you are training your employees that this is how autism and other cognitive disabilities should be handled, you are doing it wrong.
This experience was an eye opener on how the Disney company, mainly the parks, does not care about its guests. The focus is on the profits being made, and not the experience of your guests. Raising prices again on tickets, in the same year, sure….why not. Cancelling the Guest Assistance program, ensuring the wealthy do not use “handicapped” guides AND leaving only your VIP Guided program starting at $315 an hour, a little ironic. Not properly training your staff on how to deal and even recognize those who might need extra assistance due to cognitive disabilities, well, there is no excuse for that.
On a similar topic, I am very confused on how your training is conducted. I understood the Disney Institute to be a top notch training and leadership development branch. I follow them for my degree and field is in Organizational Management and Development. However, the differences in training between the park operations staff and say the Disney Cruise Line staff is mind boggling. While on the Disney Dream, multiple staff could see when our son Caleb was overstimulated, and without prompting would offer help. During the Pirate Party with all the people, and music, and overall noise, Caleb began to cover his ears and shut down. A staff member named Kevin came over, noticed what was going on, and told us where to go to view the fireworks, but be away from all the chaos. The youth staff in the Oceaneers Club was so warm and supportive if he began to become overwhelmed. They would lead him to a quieter place to play and still have fun. And they played with him. The dining staff learned after 5 minutes together his habits and signs, and would respond accordingly with interacting with him – including dancing or getting him another chocolate milk. How the cruise staff could understand the signs, yet Disney park cast members do not continues to baffle me. I am sure park operation employees have witnessed meltdowns and other overstimulation type responses from guests. Maybe they need refresher training in the topics supposedly covered with the implementation of the DAS program.
Please do not look at this letter as a threat that we will stop supporting Disney, and tell all our friends to do the same. That is not going to happen. Our son loves Disney Junior, and he can sing all the songs from Sheriff Callie and Sharky and Bones. We love the DVC properties, but we will go to Universal more often. We will continue to go on Disney Cruises, for their service is 1000% better than at any of the Disney parks and resorts.
Will we share amongst social media communities our horrible experience? Yes. Am I going to bring it up on our podcasts? Yes. I will also forward this email to organizations such as Autism Speaks and other causes. I also updated my review on your Facebook page from 5 months ago with a brief synopsis of what happened.
I thank you for your time in reading this email/letter. I state it that way because I am emailing AND sending a physical copy to your company. I look forward to a response regarding my concerns and observations, and hope there is something that can be learned from these issues.
DVC Member (Aulani and Bay Lake), Annual Passholder, Tables in Wonderland Member, Castaway Club Member