It takes careful planning, but with the Disney Parks Disability Pass, our son with autism was able to enjoy Walt Disney World. The Disney Disability Access Service Card meant that we were able to enjoy the Disney Parks rides with minimal waits. By the end of our Disney World vacation, we even got a bonus: Our son agreed to finally start wearing a watch.
The New Disney Disability Pass
Two years ago, Disney changed its Disability Pass system to discourage misuse by unscrupulous visitors who wanted to cut through the long lines by feigning various disabilities. The new system set in place tried to stop the misuse as well as accommodate guests with autism.
Earlier last month we visited Walt Disney World and had the opportunity to use Disney’s criticized Disability Access Service (DAS) card first hand. I’m happy to say not only did our trip go well but also we learned valuable tips that I’d love to share.
Our teen son with autism is extremely heat intolerant and gets anxiety attacks while waiting in long lines. So we chose to visit the parks during springtime (after spring break) when the weather is milder and there are fewer visitors.
We decided to splurge and stay on property to benefit from the Extra Magic Hours and to shorten travel times back and forth from the hotel. We also purchased Park Hopper tickets which are more expensive than regular tickets to give us the option to go back and forth between parks in the same day. That meant our son would have the opportunity to enjoy some rides more than once during our stay.
After reading Disney’s Disability page carefully, we pre-booked our top three ride choices on our FastPass allowance, which can be used in addition to the DAS.
To entertain him while he needed to wait for any rides, we bought our son a mini iPad so he wouldn’t have to carry the larger one he uses at home. The smaller one fits in my handbag as well as a larger fanny pack my husband carries around.
The mini iPad also takes less time to recharge. There are several places in Disney Parks where you can recharge devices. Our favorite is in Tomorrowland. There also are charging station in the public restrooms (!) but you need to remember to bring the wire and wall plug along.
I also made sure I brought a note from our doctor explaining the specific accommodations our son needed (couldn’t wait in queues for extended periods of time and the fact he needed to use a special cushion) to show staff.
During our Visit
We started by heading to Guest Services to get the paper pass (which is now electronically linked to the Magic Band). In the Magic Kingdom, it is located in City Hall on the main square on your left side after entering the park. The day we went, there were only two persons ahead of us, so the line was quite short.
A courteous cast member asked for our son’s name, date of birth and how many persons would be accompanying him. He then took his picture and got him to personally sign the pass (he got a kick out of that). We were warned not to lose the pass and since our son insisted on carrying it himself, we ended up buying him a fanny pack to put it into.
Our first stop was ‘Ariel’s Under the Sea Adventure’ where the official wait time was 30 minutes. We were directed to the FastPass line where a cast member wrote a set time for us to return after 20 minutes. We used the time to check out the souvenirs in the nearby store and returned for the ride.
Once we returned the person there crossed out the handwritten notation on the pass, which enabled us to get a different ride booked.
Next, we headed to Dumbo. Again, the wait was 30 minutes and we ended up waiting 20 minutes with the Disney Disability Pass.
We hopped on the Disney bus (a 10-minute wait) to go to the Animal Kingdom to go on Expedition Everest and Cali Rapids before returning to the Magic Kingdom.
Soon a pattern emerged: the DAS reduces about 10 minutes of posted wait time. The longest wait we had to endure that day was at It’s a Small World, where the published wait time was 40 minutes. We waited 30 minutes during which our son played several rounds of games on the iPad, got a snack and had a much needed bathroom break.
Once or twice we did end up in the line slightly earlier than scheduled but this system seems to be quite time-specific (they scan the pass) so in most cases the person at the gate did not allow us to get in early.
Overall, during our first day we managed to go on eight popular rides using the DAS, three using the FastPass allotment plus a few rides and shows for which there was hardly any wait.
Our Takeaway on the Disney Disability Pass
The DAS system created some time-management challenges for us.
We had to find various alternatives to occupy our son during the waits, which meant bringing electronic devices, extra batteries and spending quite a bit more money than originally planned on food and souvenirs.
I can see how this might become a reason for a meltdown in some children with autism who don’t understand why they have to walk away when they are already at their favorite ride. Compared to the old system in which the wait would be ten minutes or less, this system at times resulted in longer waits. Depending on the day and how busy the park gets, it could be even longer.
In my opinion, the system might work better if Disney allowed guests with disabilities to either pre-book a number of DAS rides online, or increase the FastPass allowance from three to six so that parents of children with autism could plan their day better.
On a positive note, the system still worked reasonably well for us. Our son got to go on all of the rides he wanted and even a few more. It convinced him to try new rides he hadn’t been interested in on prior visits, just because there was little to no wait.
Best of all, he also agreed to wear a watch (which we’ve been trying to get him to do for several years) so that he could track and know exactly when he had to return for the next ride.