Durangoan challenges Disney over disability access program

Courtesy of Becky Jones

Tiffany Spence and Blake Spence enjoy Blake’s favorite ride Dumbo at Disneyland. Tiffany is holding a Guest Assistance Card in her hand.

In a move that began Wednesday, Disneyland will be changing the way it accommodates visitors with disabilities. The change has sparked much debate and spurred a local Durango resident to take on the entertainment giant.

The Guest Assistance Card at Disneyland was initially developed to address needs of people in wheelchairs who were unable to negotiate the winding queues for rides. Over time, GAC expanded to allow people with any disability to bypass the lines at rides. The system was accused of rampant abuse. In perhaps the most flagrant example, people had hired people with disabilities (or posing as having disabilities) to get them through the park, skipping every wait along the way.

When the flagrant abuses were exposed at Disneyland, Disney responded by implementing its new Disabled Assistance System, which was to start Oct. 9.

DAS pass is purchased at the town hall. With the DAS pass, you make a sort of reservation at a park kiosk for one ride at a time. The reservations depend on the wait time. This ensures that the DAS pass holders have to wait as long as anyone else would. That might be an adequate system if everyone only had mobility impairments. But disabilities are as varied as the people who experience them.

Durango mom Tiffany Spence was heartbroken by the news of Disney’s change. Her son Blake is 11 years old. He is blind and has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He is unable to walk or talk and eats by a gastronomy tube. Going to Disneyland is Blake’s favorite thing to do when he visits his grandparents in California. His favorite ride is Dumbo.

Blake’s disabilities make it impossible for him to be in the park for more than an hour or two. He wears out easily and can get sick if it is too hot. By bypassing long lines, Blake is able to access multiple rides before he tires. With the DAS, he may get to ride one or two.

One wonders if people with disabilities and their families were a part of Disney’s decision-making process in implementing this new change. Far too often are policy decisions made that affect people with disabilities without their input. A parent of a child with autism could explain that having to wait between activities can cause such a meltdown that no one in the family can ride or even stay at the park. Tiffany Spence could describe how the current system meets Blake needs. Equal access means something different to everyone, which means any one-size-fits-all approach actually fits no one.

The DAS approach doesn’t punish the system abusers. It denies access to kids who used the GAC to experience the park like any other child would.

Tiffany Spence wants to make sure that Disney hears from people with disabilities and their friends and families. To sign her petition against the DAS, visit change.org at www.change.org/petitions/disneyland-allow-the-disabled-to-go-to-the-front-of-the-line.

Tara Kiene is director of case management with Community Connections Inc.

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