Disney has a system which employs the use of a Guest Assistance Card (GAC). A person with any disability can go to Administrative Services (City Hall at Disneyland) and request a Guest Assistance Card. Many do not know that no proof of a disability is required. If you simply say, "I have a bad back", you will get one. The Guest Assistance Card then gives you preferential line position on many of the rides. Instead of having to wait through very long line queues, the GAC holder sometimes accesses the ride much more quickly. Disney's current position is that requiring proof of a disability -- like a doctor's note -- would be discriminatory to disabled people. Even though there is some abuse of the system by non-disabled persons, it is understandable Disney solves the problem of determining the nature and complexity of each disability by taking people at their word.
Even so, not all disabled persons are alike. Some disabilities definitely create problems for the person in regards to waiting in line. Some do not. Related to line position is the problem of ride access. Though Disney has made an effort to make many of the rides accessible to disabled persons, just as all disabled are not alike, all Disney rides are not alike. For example, accessing the Mark Twain riverboat at Disneyland is quite different than access to Space Mountain. But can every disability be accommodated? As an extreme example, if my disability was, say, agoraphobia (an unreasonable fear of crowds), would I have the right to require Disneyland make everyone go away while I was there? With all due respect to anyone who suffers from this disability, I think everyone would agree that this is not feasible and in the abstract represents the limits of individual needs and requests. Further, there is a whole class of people who are discriminated against simply on the basis of height – little people (or dwarfs). Contemplate the irony that none of Snow White’s friends could ride on certain rides with her.
Obviously I offer these examples almost tongue in cheek. However, in the extreme, it does bring up the point that so many with disabilities sometimes have a hard time facing. The Americans with Disabilities Act was not designed to make sure every need of every disabled person is met at every moment by every public accommodation they encounter. It is in force to provide reasonable accommodations, to ensure equal access, and to prohibit discrimination. But the above example was offered to describe the limits of such protection. Therefore, the delicate balance is somewhere between equal access and a reasonable effort by the provider of the venue or services. Further, there are health and safety reasons for restricting access to certain people as pointed out by the height requirement. For better or worse, we often rely on our court system to split the hairs on the way specific situations affect certain individuals.
A Possible Solution
This is an open letter to Disney proposing a solution. Though any one solution regarding the disabled when applied to all involved – able-bodied and disabled alike – could never be perfect for everyone, I am hoping the idea I have proposed can at least inform the dialogue. My idea is that the GAC be replaced by a card (or system) that merely represents the holder’s place in line when they present themselves to that line. Then the disabled patron can wait elsewhere and come back when it is their turn. A sort of “Hold-My-Place-In-Line” Card (or system).
This solves two problems; Equal Access and Line Abuse by Able-Bodied People. First, Equal Access is guaranteed. You receive no special advantage in line for being disabled, but you are also not unnecessarily denied access because of your disability either. If your handicap creates problems with regard to your ability to actually stay in the line, you may wait elsewhere – somewhere more comfortable – then return to the line when it is your turn. Second, those who are tempted to abuse the system by claiming disabilities they do not have, will no longer receive any advantage for doing so.
It has been pointed out that this proposal functions in much the same way as the Fastpass system. The difference is that it is based on line position not on return time. The return time would actually vary depending on the length of the line. And the new system would apply to both regular lines as well as Fastpass lines. This means, if you want to enter a Fastpass line you need to have both a Fastpass as well as the “Hold-My-Place-In-Line” Card.
The problem with implementing this proposal is a logistical one with several unanswered questions. Where would the disabled patron wait? How would they enter the line when it was their turn? How is the position in line indicated? Would they enter through the Fastpass line on rides that have them or would they have to squeeze their way past waiting patrons in the regular line?
Though it may be easy for an outsider to suggest solutions that will eventually possibly cost Disney millions to implement, I submit the costs are already being realized and that the solution will fall somewhere in the middle of a cost/benefit ratio and doing the right thing.
The reason this proposed solution came to mind is that it actually happened for me on three occasions recently. It was a temporary system employed for meeting characters (The Princesses, Rapunzel, and Merida) which were all receiving guests in less-than-ideal conditions until the Fantasy Faire opened. None of the lines for these temporary character meet-and-greets could accommodate a wheelchair or ECV. The line for the Princesses actually had steps and in order to access the meeting area, you needed to enter from the exit if you were in a wheelchair or ECV. Both Merida’s and Rapunzel’s lines were roped off in such a way that my chair could not negotiate the line.
In all three of these cases, I was directed by the Cast Member to wait somewhere nearby. There were two ways that the CM worked out when I could return. One was by mutually agreeing who was just in front of us in line (i.e. the lady in the blue dress). The other was by the CM telling me the wait time from that point was, say, 20 minutes. When 20 minutes was up, it was then my turn. This worked beautifully as I happened to have my twin granddaughters with me (I wasn’t there to see the princesses all by myself, after all!). I waited at the assigned place and the girls were less restricted. They were free to move about a bit and even went to the bathroom (twice) with Nana while I waited. In my opinion, this was quite fair.
In fact, there is presently a daily operating version of this idea at Pixie Hollow where disabled patrons are given the choice of bypassing the main queue line, but who also must wait until it is their turn. There is a separate ADA entrance. The Cast Member and I agreed on who I was in line next behind (i.e. the little girl in the green fairy dress) and we waited until after that party.
If Disney were to implement this solution, it would need to solve the logistics of those entering the line when it was their turn. Holding the particular place in line might be approached in a number of different ways. An able-bodied person from your party could be the “Place Holder.” If you are alone, Disney might have to assign a few “Place in Line Holders” CMs, or a baton or card could be handed to the person behind which your turn begins. Lastly, the time to return based on the length of line and current estimated wait time could be employed and no “place holder” would be necessary.
Ultimately, though the solution does require some logistics, it’s fairness to all those involved is inherent. Those disabled patrons who have particular problems waiting in line are alleviated of that inconvenience. Able-bodied patrons, Fastpass holders, and, in fact, Disney’s Fastpass system is not undermined by an influx of unpredictable numbers of people who claim to need to wait in line less than everyone else.
Feel free to let me and Disney know what you think about the current problem and this proposed solution in the comments below.
[Edit] I have received comments that claim the system is already functioning as i have suggested in this letter. I am a (very) frequent disabled visitor, and with the exception of the character meet-and-greets I mentioned, I have never encountered a ride where they employed this system. Also, as a recent LA expose' news story shows ("Disabled Tour Guides" Cheat Disneyland Parkgoers), line position is expedited frequently for those with GACs. So, if a line position return time policy is being implemented, it is not published or universal within the park(s).