(CNN) -- Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort
will no longer allow visitors with disabilities instant access to rides,
starting next month, in an attempt to reduce abuse of the policy.
Under the current policy,
Disney visitors can get a guest assistance card that grants quicker
access to rides, often entering through exit doors to bypass the main
There were widespread reports of able-bodied people abusing the policy.
Some wealthy park
visitors were hiring disabled people to pretend to be family members so
they could skip lines, the New York Post reported in May. Social
researcher Wednesday Martin learned about the practice while researching
a book about New York's Park Avenue elite, the Post reported. "It
really is happening," Martin told CNN's "Starting Point" in May.
Starting October 9,
guests with a new disability access card will be issued a ticket with a
time to enter an attraction, based on the current wait time, so they
don't have stay in line. Disney fan site Miceage.com broke the news of the policy change last week.
No proof of disability is
required under either the current or new policies. Asked why Disney
couldn't keep the current system and require disabled guests to provide
proof of disability, Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said, "Due to
confidentiality laws, we're limited in the information we can ask."
"We have an unwavering
commitment to making our parks accessible to all guests," Brown said in a
statement. "Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for
special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create
a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing
accommodations for guests with disabilities. We engaged disability
groups, such as Autism Speaks, to develop this new process, which is in
line with the rest of our industry."
Brown stressed that the program is different from the parks' FastPass
program, which issues a limited number of FastPasses per hour for
certain attractions. A guest using the new disability card would get a
return time based on the actual wait time for the ride.
Erin Moya, whose
4-year-old son has spina bifida, agreed that there needed to be a change
to stop the abuse. But she worried that the new system makes things
more complicated for families that really need help.
"For example, my son,
similar to many others living with disabilities, has special medical
procedures that have to be done at a specific frequency throughout the
day," Moya, of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, wrote in an e-mail. "To then
have to worry about 'scheduling' rides is just one more complication to
add to a visit that is probably already more complex than most people
Disney, which is
starting to train its employees on the new policy this week, will
release more details of the program closer to the October 9 rollout
date, Brown said. Guests who still have concerns about the policy can
talk to guest relations about their assistance needs, she added.
Annual passholder Sheryl
Gangano of San Jose, California, says the policy change may cause her
to drop her annual pass and reduce her seven to 10 annual trips to
Disneyland. Gangano, who has complex regional pain syndrome, can walk
but experiences "excruciating pain" from the lightest of touches or when
she stands or sits in one position for too long.
"It makes it a challenge
to be able to go and enjoy the park," she said. "I will need to figure
out how to structure my visits differently and become more aware of my
pain. This is unfortunate, as one of the things Disneyland has given me
is that escape."
Ellen Seidman, whose
family is heading to Disneyland for the first time in December, is
willing to give Disney the benefit of the doubt during the rollout.
"Disney has an admirable history of accommodating guests with special needs," she wrote on her "Love that Max" blog
about kids with special needs. "There are wheelchairs and Electric
Convenience Vehicles available for rent, special dietary offerings at
most restaurants, designated relief areas for service animals, plus
options for guests with hearing and visual impairment. I can't imagine
that Disney would ever leave kids with special needs in the (pixie)
"Parents of kids with
special needs sure aren't shy about speaking up when something isn't
working. If the realities of the new program prove too hard to handle,
the parks will hear about it -- and hopefully make adjustments
What do you think of Disney's new program? Please share in the comments section below.
By Katia Hetter, CNN