Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What You Need to Know About the New GAC

Disney announced recently that it is abandoning the Guest Assistance Card in favor of a new "reservation" system for guests with special needs. In short, Disney is no longer allowing guests with disabilities to "bypass the line" at it's theme parks.

Here's what you need to know about the changes.
  • If you are not disabled nor traveling with a disabled guest, the changes should mean very little to you other than perhaps, in the long term, shortening somewhat the wait times around Walt Disney World. While from a park management (Disney's) standpoint, the changes are operationally necessary and will shorten waits around the resort, the changes will likely be pretty unnoticeable to the average guest. (Toy Story Mania isn't going to suddenly have a 25 minute wait or anything.)
  • If you DO have a disability or travel with someone who does, your experience will change somewhat significantly. Instead of the previous system in which persons with disabilities received a card that allowed them to bypass attraction queues, those same guests will now be forced to wait for the same amount of time as the posted stand-by wait at attractions only without standing in line (in essence, they will recieve a Fastpass-type return time for every attraction.) The same is likely to be true for guests in wheelchairs.
  • This new system is designed to make all guests equal. Those who can not, for medical reasons (be it physical, mental, etc), stand in line for a prolonged period of time will not have to. However these same guests will not get to "cut" the line in front of everyone else.
The new system is not perfect. Change is always met with hostility when it comes to Disney Parks announcements and this one has caused a particular excess of vitriol. I have visited the parks with a disabled family member in a wheelchair and, yes, skipping to the front of the line was a wonderful privilege that I would be sad to see go away if I were used to it. But there is no denying it was a nice windfall to a disability for my family. For others, the front of the line access was far more important. 

And I'm not talking about people who had been abusing the system and are now being petulant. Many parents of special needs children (those with autism for instance) have argued that simply making their children wait to ride an attraction, perhaps for an hour or longer, will make visits far less manageable and desirable for the family.

Only time will tell if the new system works or if Disney will need to tweak the system in the future to make sure they are providing the best possible guest experience for everyone - which is what this was supposed to accomplish in the first place.

If you want to read more on this subject, check out these two articles from the always excellent Robert Niles at Theme Park Insider:
Disney confirms changes to disability access program. But is there a better way?
Use, not abuse, forced Disney to change its disabled access system

And for more detailed information on how the new system will work, here's an update from Scarlett Litton at Touring Plans:
 Details of Disney’s New Accessibility Program Replacing Guest Assistance Cards

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