We managed it, only because the Kids had no idea what we were doing.

My boys are both on the autism spectrum, Oldest is more high functioning, younger is in the middle. After reading all the information about the DAS we decided it would be more of a pain to use it and try to go without it. I knew I could do this because 1: The boys had never been to Disneyland and didn’t know what to expect (they were begging to go to LegoLand for the third time) 2. We don’t have cable or watch many commercials, so they weren’t into Mickey or any of that stuff. 3. We were going with family that lived in SoCal and had a lot of Disney Knowledge. I told my sister that if there was a long line and no fast pass that we would simply not go on the ride. There was no way my kids would be able to handle it.

We went on Valentines Day. It was really Nutty. Really Nutty. I kicked myself but we stuck to our plan. A lot of rides were closed down. The only ones that were available were the scary kind, whhich my boys didn’t mind thanks to MineCraft. The rides we did go on worked because they are tied in with Lego Sets (Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones) We experienced a couple terrible lines but we soon discovered we had a secret weapon with us, my niece. My niece is a bit of a tomboy and loves the same things my boys love. So there we are walking around while the boys/cousin whisper and giggle over fart jokes. My youngest would get loud and excited, but the most of the lines were outdoors. The horrific line at Haunted Mansion was tolerated that way. By the way, I ran into one of the DAS kiosks, and that is about how you find them. The DAS Kiosks have teeny tiny signs, a parent under duress would probably walk past it multiple time.

One really long line was Pirates of the Caribbean, we figured later would be safe enough because the line had been really long earlier. It was still a bit long, but thankfully we had a kid in front of us that was playing a game on his phone and didn’t mind three extra kids watching over his shoulders.

One big thing I would recommend is make a Reservation for Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue (if your family can make it all the way to dinner.) It has low lighting, and you have all the food brought to your table and the kids can pick and choose.  There is a cowboy singer for 2 minutes every half hour, but it was all gentle and overall a calm place.

In all it could have been a disaster, I took a big risk in not using any extra services. But when I had read the reviews it sounded like a pain either way. I am lucky though that my family and my kids do not have mobility issues. We were able to do things like Tarzans Tree House and Pirate/Treasure Island to break it up a little.  We were just really lucky. I can easily see that a family with a child who enjoys Disney, has been to Disney before under GAC and has a fixed idea of what his experience will be like having an excruciating time. 

Our horrible experience a couple weeks ago.

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.

Christopher Dobbins

Editor/Host: www.truegeekradio.com

DVC Member (Aulani and Bay Lake), Annual Passholder, Tables in Wonderland Member, Castaway Club Member

Our Second Trip Since the Change!

We just got back from Disneyland. We had tried a trip in October just after the changes and had a horrible experience with my son (Devin 6yr old with moderate-severe autism) having a meltdown and us leaving the park without even riding one ride. So this was our first attempt since then. We had to make alot of changes in order to make this trip possible. Change number one we had to rent a hotel room in the Californian Grand Hotel which has the easiest access to and from the the park (of course it’s also the most expensive). If Devin started having a meltdown we could take him there until it was over as his meltdowns can last hours. The second change was I was not leaving guest relations without re-admit passes. Last time they told me after issuing the DAS there were no further accommodations they could offer. At that time I didn’t not know that the re-admits existed. That first morning we got a late start after checking in the hotel, making sure Devin had been fed, changed (he is not potty trained) and generally in a good mood. We headed to guest relations in California Adventure and I couldn’t believe my eyes there was no line! Of course it was 2pm on a Tuesday but I was still amazed. I walked in there ready to battle but of course I would be courteous at all times. I explained my son’s autism and how he is unable to wait in the lines and also told them I had called before hand and was told I should be able to be issued some re-admit passes to help out with emergencies (I did ask for them by name). I told the cast member when he has a meltdown he may vomit and we needed to avoid this at all costs as he is on a strict nutritional diet and cannot afford to lose anything that we can get him to eat. He issued the DAS and 4 re-admit passes, he also told me he was putting it in the computer and I could come back everyday and be issued 4 more. I was thinking to myself that was too easy. Maybe I just had gotten lucky and got a sympathetic cast member. We asked for a return time for the cars ride, that ride always must be first as it is Devin’s favorite. There was an hour wait and he wrote 45 minutes. This was the first inconsistency I started to notice. As some cast members would subtract 10 minutes and other would subtract 15. A very few would subtract none. I never argued with any cast members about the time they wrote as it wasn’t too much of a busy day and I am not much of a confrontational person. He also informed us as we were leaving that Bugs Land had very short wait times (under 15 minutes) and that would be a good place to go while waiting for the the cars ride return time. So off we headed to Bugs Land. There I saw a ladybug ride that looked just like the teacups, I thought perfect he loves the teacups! The wait time said 15 minutes. In line the problems started right away. Devin knew this was not the “cups ride” as much as I tried to show him and tell him, “look just like cups ride” he knew it wasn’t the right colors or the right music. About 5 minutes into the line he started getting aggravated and asking for “cars ride”. As much as I tried explaining to him first this ride then cars ride, that was not going work. About 20 minutes into the line (the line ended up being more like a 25 minute wait) he had enough and started saying over and over again, “cars ride! cars ride!”. Not wanting him to have a meltdown, but still hopeful we could salvage the 20 minutes we spent in line. I tried very hard to distract him. When it became our turn just a few minutes later, he refused to get out of the stroller. He was screaming at the top of his lungs “cars ride!”, kicking and flailing his arms. We ended up just going out the exit never riding that ladybug ride. That was the last time we will ever try waiting in line for another ride while waiting for our return time. We were already pretty sure it wouldn’t work but wanted to use Disney’s recommendation of try it first before you say it doesn’t work. Sadly Disney doesn’t seem to understand autism at all. Thankfully he never went into full meltdown mode, or that very well could have been the end of our day. We still had 20 minutes before our return time on the cars ride. We debating using the first re-admit, but were scared to death of running out and having a real serious emergency. So we walked as slow as we could and took a route around Paradise Pier which I knew was the long way around but hopefully it would kill some time. I could tell others walking behind us were getting annoyed and caught a few comments but we absolutely could not get to the cars ride without it being time to go. Devin was already aggravated and we couldn’t push him anymore. We ended up getting there 3 minutes early and thinking there shouldn’t be any problem and we went to get in the fast pass line. Wouldn’t you believe it the cast member tried to turn us away. She said we have to exit and wait the 3 minutes. So I begged, “please don’t do this he is already having a hard time waiting if we have to leave this line he will have a severe meltdown”. She stuck to no and said she had to follow the rules. My quick thinking husband pulled out the re-admit and handed it to her. Boy did she ever looked annoyed at that and said, “You really want to use this now? You only have to wait another 3 minutes.” My husband very respectfully explained that getting out of this line was not an option, and asked her to please take the pass and let us board. She did finally take the pass but as we were walking away I overheard her say to the other cast member standing on the other side of the line, “You know they’re not helping their son by letting him remain spoiled”. Mom instincts kicked in and I wanted more then anything to go tell her off, but that wouldn’t help my child so I took the high road and let it be. So there went our first re-admit when we had tried so hard to make the DAS work. After the cars ride we found an information kiosk to get a new time. They were not easy to find, when we asked for directions half of the Disney employees had no idea what we were talking about. When we got there the she asked if we had changed our mind about the cars ride, I explained what had happened and she said my DAS time was still good and if we wanted to ride it again we could as our waiting time was up. Thinking I didn’t want to aggravate an already tense situation (just imagine if we showed up and tried to ride again with that horrible cast member) we decided against it and asked for time for Autopia, thinking the long walk between parks would run down the time. So that’s how we spent most of the day getting time for attractions that were as far apart as we could get and walking as slowly as we could. This of course equaled sore feet for Mommy and Daddy! The next day we went to Disneyland’s guest relations, this time we waited for about 30 minutes and guess what they had no record of us in the computer. I had told them we went to the California Adventure last time but they said it shouldn’t matter. So again I had to go through explaining his disability and why we needed the re-admit passes. This time they were not as willing to give them to us. I was told they are for the most severe cases. I told her this is the one of the most severe cases. I said he can have severe medical problems if we allow him to have a meltdown so we need these for emergencies. Then the cast member asked what the passes they gave me yesterday looked like. Well I had one left over so I pulled it out and said this is what they look like. She said, “oh so I guess you did get them yesterday”. Like I had been lying the whole time. They then gave us the passes and promised we would be in the computer for next time. So 30 minutes in line and then another 25 to finally get the passes. We spent 3 days total at Disneyland and here is what I learned about what works and what doesn’t. First fast-passes are worthless, any fast-passes we got we could never return within the time and we found out the hard way they were being more strict on the return time. This cost us another re-admit pass when we were 15 minutes late for a fast-pass return time. Secondly, we could not have done this trip without 2 people. It took both me and my husband to get return times, keep Devin calm, and so on. Third, we were lucky our son seemed to be ok as long as we were walking toward an attraction, we purposely got return times for rides in the other park farthest away so our time would be up when we got there. Thankfully my husband and are both young and in decent shape…I wore a pedometer the second day and we walked well over 10 miles! I know this would not be an option for other families as some kids will not be ok with the wait to walk across the parks and some parents cannot do that many miles in a day (believe me our legs and feet suffered for it as well). Fourth, those kiosks are really hard to find. I spent 25 minutes looking for the one in Tomorrowland, even after asking a cast member for directions. Fifth, the hotel room was an absolute necessity, we never rented one before because we live 20 minutes away so I guess if you have the an indisposable income it could work on a regular basis. Last, we could not have done it without the re-admit passes. I have heard they stopped handing them out is Disneyworld so that alone would have made it impossible. Oh! I forgot to add what works…well I guess you could say it works depending how hard you work at it. I mean some one in a wheelchair can go up steps, if they throw themselves on the ground and crawl up, but that is obviously not a reasonable expectation. So if you ask me Disney is providing reasonable accommodations for the disabled?…my answer is no. My husband and I should not be expected to continuously walk from park to park, cast members should not be making rude remarks and I should not have to spend thousands more than a non-disabled family for a hotel I don’t really need.

My Thoughts on the DAS

My name is Kimi. I’m 25 years old, and I have the mental age of a child. I am diagnosed with high functioning autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia and severe anxiety. Also, my parents are both physically-impaired. This DAS will not work for my family because neither of us have the stamina nor physical ability to pass times on one. I also feel that if Disney took one look at me, they would think I don’t need a DAS because I don’t look or act disabled. My meltdowns will drain my energy to the point where I feel like passing out after having one. I also don’t understand the concept of time. I could be in the car while my parents go inside a store, and it’ll feel as though it’s been hours since they’ve been in there when it’s only been less than five minutes or so.

Another thing is that practicing waiting in line has no effect on me. I can handle lines at stores and other places because they aren’t that long. It’s not effective to practice with shorter lines at places like that. Plus, being an adult, I feel that they are forgetting how disabled ADULTS also enjoy their parks as well and not just those who are children (well, not mentally children but actual children).

The last time i visited DIsneyworld was in first and second grade. At the time, I didn’t need their disability card because I wasn’t as disabled then as I am now. We don’t have the money to invest in going, and in all honesty, I’m glad because I could never survive going to an amusement park that doesn’t support me and my family’s needs.

An incident at Magic Kingdom

I wanted to mention before anyone reads this, this post discusses some of the behind the scenes aspects of Disney World. So if you’d appreciate not knowing about those you may want to skip this post.

This happened awhile ago. I remembered a time I was trying to use the sidewalk to get back to the monorail before a parade started. A CM kept stalking and yelling at my mom and I that we couldn’t be on the sidewalk because of an emergency. This already provoked my sound sensitivity, and we tried to move faster. This CM kept yelling at us to a point I had a meltdown and cursed at them, which is something I try not to do at Disney World because of the kids, but they were really pushing me.

Disney needs to teach their CMs to consider how to handle situations like these better. There is a reason for rules and I respect that, but hounding a park goer leaving, not just loitering around the sidewalk isn’t good behavior. What if I was the type of person on the Autism spectrum who would just scream and run away?

There is a way of communicating a rule that isn’t hostile. When CMs act hostile they risk ruining the magic for everyone. They could calmly escort the people out of the park for example. I know this is probably forbidden for kids, but I’ve seen the Modern Marvels episode about Disney World, and I think in an emergency where an adult with special needs is freaking out, they should consider taking them behind the scenes and let them just leave via the underground tunnels. Anything would be better than triggering someone’s memories of being bullied by authority, like school faculty, and causing someone to have such anxiety as to scream leave me alone repeatedly.

I think much like school faculty the CMs are taught to handle each situation in one way and one way only. They need to understand if someone is screaming in terror for them to leave them alone, they’ve crossed a line. I mean, you’d think this would be obvious, but for some people in authority they just don’t get it. A person is upset because your in their personal space and yelling at them, then wouldn’t the logical thing be to back the heck off?

I thought I’d just post about this while it was in my memory. Sometimes I’ll wake up with anxiety, and have PTSD type flashbacks to incidents like these. I don’t want anyone to worry, I have gotten psychological and medication to help with it.

Not great. Not horrible-yet.

My husband, 2 boys, and I come down every winter for several weeks from Michigan. I am a quadriplegic. We save up all year to be able to afford season passes. 

We heard of the new rules and went to guest relations our first day. The man pulled me aside and asked me what my concerns were. I told him I have to do weight transfers every so often to avoid pressure sores and that I also am unable to sweat. So extended periods in line could result in over heating or an inability to do a proper weight transfer. His response was that almost all their lines were ADA compliant and that there is no longer anything available to reduce the time I must wait. I mentioned that I read about a card that works like a fast pass and he said he had nothing like that available for me. I said, “to clarify, you have no privileges available to disabled people who are unable to wait in long lines?” His response was, “we offer you the privilege of waiting in our ADA compliant line.” That was it.

I went home and researched the Disability Access Card. I went to a different guest relations the next day and she gave me the card no questions asked. Weird.

As far as the new system, it’s better than nothing but a far cry from the accommodations Disney used to offer. Also, their new fast pass rules are pretty lame and only allow you to use it at 1 park per day.
Disney used to be the one place in the world where I could be confident that life was going to be a bit easier when I went through the gates. As a quadrapilegic, so much of life is unreachable, unavailable, and often impossible. But at Disney, we didn’t have to overly plan. The cast members gladly welcomed us to enjoy the ride and feel ‘normal’ for just a moment without having to think about how our disability prohibited us from waiting in long lines and enjoying the rides ‘normal’ people get to ride. Sadly, that magic is gone. Sure, they made a way to not have to ‘wait’ IN the line, but you can’t go on anything else with that card in the meanwhile. Yes, you could get creative and work it in with fast passes, but having to be at certain places by certain times is just not doable for many with disabilities. And it gets really complicated and requires expert planning. Which is why the magic is gone for me. With a disability, I have to plan for everything- all day every day. Disney used to be the one place we could leisurely stroll and enjoy rides on our time. Not anymore. And it is quite disappointing.

I think I have a solution!

I was thinking about how to make the disability system work while also playing into the notion of fairness able bodied people want. I was considering this, because I talked to a cast member my sister knew, and realized the cast members are put between a rock and a hard place pleasing both people with disabilities and those without. Then it hit me, they could use a stoplight system! It would work like this:

Green = Must go on ride immediately!

Yellow = Can wait a short period of time, like 10 - 20 minutes

Red = Can wait in line, but needs priority at first aid. This would be for those who need dialysis or some other medical need at some point of the day. If combined with above stoplights, it’s written as a code.

The code I thought of would be three letters dictating disability, like Autism would be aut, Cerebal Palsy would be cer. This way those who need to get on right away can, those who can wait a little can wait just so people who think that those with disabilities are getting priority don’t get mad. It’s also easy for CMs to remember because it follows stoplight commands, like go, yield, and stop.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome and look “normal”

I’m glad I found your site, because I’m very upset about the DAS after experiencing it personally. I couldn’t just get it with a doctors note I had to prove I was disabled. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and look “normal” so I was absolutely disgusted I’d have to “play r-word” to get the help I needed. This isn’t a matter of being a slant against those who are visibly disabled, here’s the real issue. If I act “Autistic” one minute then act normal the next everyone will holler “They’re faking it!” and claim I don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome because it’s non-visible. I had a freaking doctors note, but that’s not good enough anymore! I also heard the CMs now sometimes will check if the person is really disabled. I’m like “I’ll #$@%$@ wait in line before I have to act out and feel humiliated to get the assistance I need!”

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3 sons with 12 handicaps greatly enjoyed Disney World

My husband & I have to push our 3 sons’ wheelchairs as they cannot stand or walk, carry our own defibrillator as 2 of them are at a high risk of sudden death, feed one puréed food, give the other 2 Ensure, carry their incontinence products & go to First Aide to change them, & 2 have Autism. It is a big challenge to get to Disney, but they love it so much. I was really afraid to go after hearing that they no longer have the assistance card. The first day we went directly to City Hall & their program is very bad. Using their method the boys got one ride that day. After that we used our Magic bracelets. They were perfect. Using them we had 10 more fun filled days. Our goal for the boys since their early school days was for integration with the nondisabled world- now we have achieved that at Disney World.

So the DAC did not work but the Magic Bracelets did? So the accommodation that should be provided at no extra cost to you did not work but something you had to purchase extra to give you the same accommodations as everyone else worked great. Exactly the point of this site.