Disney/Disneyworld Discontinues Guest Assistance Card for Special Needs Families

In the interest of disclosure, I have not been to Disney in close to 20 years even though I live about 70 miles away, mostly due to finances but also because the logistics of navigating our family’s health in a theme park is a little overwhelming to try to implement.

I am dismayed about the changes to the disability program which pretty much ensures I will never be able to visit the park without recruiting friends or paying for a support person to come with me.

My son has Down Syndrome and is a heart patient with a pacemaker. He also has an inability to sweat, which causes him to overheat very quickly. I was diagnosed in 2010 with cervical dystonia, a neurological movement disorder.

This condition causes uncontrollable twisting and turning of my neck and extreme muscle spasms in my shoulders. Hours of standing or walking exacerbate my symptoms. Botox, yoga and meds control the twisting but the tightness is always a problem and I have had to learn to pace my activities. A few times I’ve had to use a chair myself.

We couldn’t manage a full day at the park. We’d have to break the visit up into half days and with the usual wait times, we might get access to two or three rides. With current ticket prices averaging $199 per ticket for a Florida resident four-day pass, a week at the beach just sounds a whole lot better. Still, I hope I can get my kids to Disney someday.

What’s the big deal about having to wait for a ride? Kids with developmental disabilities have a wide range of abilities. Some can handle the lines, but many do not handle long waits and transitions very well. With this policy, they will walk up to a ride, get excited when they see it, and then get handed a card to come back an hour later.

This is going to initiate meltdowns for some kids. (No, a meltdown is not a bratty temper tantrum.) People who have not been around children with developmental disabilities do not understand how we have to plan out trips like this in advance.

Families who have medical conditions that need to be attended to throughout the day are also put at even more of a disadvantage. This policy is adding one more physical stress to The Fun Disney Experience.

Special Needs Orange County writes, “Where to sit, how many steps from one location to the next, whether medications are packed and administered on time, whether our loved one is physically strong enough to withstand the seemingly benign environment, how long before our child unravels at the seams, how long before perfect strangers look at us with judgment and hatred, how long before we give up and give in and go home, wondering if we’ll have the strength to try again some other time……”

Disney says they engaged disability groups such as Autism Speaks to develop the process. I’ve been around a lot of kids with autism over the years and I don’t know how Autism Speaks thinks that they are advocating for their kids. How is this an acceptable policy for kids with autism (or any other kid with a disability for that matter?)

I was really angry when the story came out about the entitled folks who were scamming their way through the Disney lines. But this new policy is punishing our families for the despicable behavior of some. There has to be a better way to do this.

I’m a mom who would trade in my handicapped parking plate and some of my respite hours to get back the ability to take my own kid to a theme park or the beach by myself. You know, this isn’t about entitlement and freaking out about long lines. This is about dignity and accessibility for ALL people. A level playing field. A basic civil right. A basic human right.

A petition addressed to the Disney CEOs is up at MoveOn. Please sign and share!

  • February 27, 2022