Podcast Episode 16 - Disney Ends Guest Assistance Card Program

This week on the IAP, we talk about Disney's decision to end the Guest Assistance Card program, which allowed families with disabilities to have shorter wait times for park attractions.

Show Notes & Links


Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.

Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IAP. Thanks for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor. If you're enjoying the IAP, share it. Tell someone about it. Hey! Even link to it from your accessible website. Mike!

Mike Guill: Mark.

Mark: How are you doing?

Mike: Pretty good. I've been dying to talk of this for a couple of weeks. We haven't been able to fit it in. We've had so many other things that were more pressing issues to cover in our podcast to make sure that things are timely and all that, but this is the big one to me.

Mark: Yeah. Well, I had a feeling that this may be some of the listeners' favorite podcast because you're so excited about this. I don't think I will be able to get a word in edgewise. I'll give you all the talking and the listeners will be like, "Finally, he shut up and let Mike talk."

Mike: No, I don't think that's the case at all, but I do think that it's a hot button issue for a lot of folks. I know that we've been sticking a lot to digital accessibility and this is divergent.

Mark: A little bit off, but I think worth a discussion for sure.

Mike: Yes. So, just to kick this off, this is about Disney. I should preface this by saying that Disney has a company that has been known for being very disability-friendly. When it comes to their parks, they offer services with disabilities far beyond what a lot of companies do. If you have a hearing disability and you go to the Disney Park, you can get assisted listening, you can get capturing. They have video captioning services. They have sign language interpretation. There's all kinds of stuff that you can get help with. If you're visually disabled, they offer audio description things for rides. They have handheld devices that you can carry around the park with you to give you audio description for the rides. They have Braille maps, Braille guidebooks. It's really over the top as far as what they have to do.

Mark: And by the way, we say this isn't about digital accessibility, but a lot of those solutions when it comes to audio description and captioning and that kind of thing, there's a big tie-in because that's what a lot of the solutions look like for digital accessibility as well.

Mike: Exactly! And those things, captioning and audio description are expensive. I'll just be upfront about it. They're expensive solutions, but they're good solutions and they're worth it in many cases. Disney's figured and they've bet on that they're worth it. On one hand, Disney has all of these information available through guest services about if you're disabled, then we're going to do our best to take care of you. We're going to put our best foot forward. What I want to talk about is Disney's new policy on disabled access on the parks, physical access. A lot of people know that Disney has a program called The Guest Assistance Card where if you have someone in your family with a disability, you can contact Disney ahead of time and get into this program, which essentially allows you to cut in line...

Mark: ...which everybody wants to do.

Mike: Of course!

Mark: That's the dream, the fantasy that starts when you're young. I get in the front of every single line.

Mike: In the front of every single line. And if you can't work into the front of the lines, in some rides, you go in through the exit or something like that. If you have a physical disability and you're unable to board through the regular line, they have more accessible ways to enter. They have people there to help. It's really over the top. It's amazing!

Mark: Quick aside, Mike, if you don't mind. Last podcast, when we were talking about all the different conferences and stuff, I was talking about the USBLN. The dude Tobias Forrest that spoke, one of the funny things he actually said is he's like, "Yeah, the longer the line is, the more disabled I become." He even said, "which is kind of funny because I'm the only one with a comfortable seat," of course, with him being in a wheelchair. That was the nature of his humor. It kind of ties in with what we're talking about here. I fully support this. Yeah, absolutely! If you've got an issue, head upfront. Let's get you on the ride because so many other things are difficult and it may be difficult for you to get through.

Mike: So, the news here, the issue is that Disney has decided that they're going to pull this program. The reasoning behind it is because statistically, they don't know if it's just very high usage or if it's fraud responsible for this. They say that they just have too much usage of this program as it is. According to one of the quotes, my hope is (from reading between the lines here) that they're going to come up with something else. Maybe there's some different qualifiers or something like that. The President of Operations is quoted saying that they are no longer able to effectively sustain it in its present form. So, I hope that means that they're not just going to chop it off and do away with it.

Mark: I have to guess that Disney is trying to solve this.

Mike: Oh, I have to, too. But in the meantime though, a lot of families...

Mark: Who does it affect, yeah.

Mike: Yeah, who does it affect? Kids with special needs. If there's a family who lives nearby the park and they've got season passes, there may be something in a particular ride that your child wants to go to every day. And believe me, if that was my kid, I'd try to make a way to get them over to it as much as possible.

Mark: I do.

Mike: It's a really interesting story. Disney won't provide or hasn't provided figures, specific numbers or anything, but it says that it now gets so many hundreds of thousands of requests every year for these guest assistance cards. Now, I will back up a little bit and say on the topic of fraud that there have been some exposés on people who have actually hired disabled folks to be "guides" for Disney for the family. So, you can imagine an affluent family calls up someone or maybe has a friend of the family who has a disability, they'll offer and they'll say, "Hey, we'll take you to Disney" and we'll get the guest assistance card and then, everybody will get us to the front of the line. So, of course, that's fraudulent and of course that is skirting the system.

Mark: Who do you think you are? You know what I mean? If you're doing that, what is it in you that makes you think you need to be in the front of that line or that you should be in the front of that line. You know what I mean?

Mike: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, we could fall into an entirely different conversation about entitlement, right?

Mark: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mike: I'll say that I know it depends on the disability. Some folks with a legitimate disability want to be treated like everybody else. They don't want to go through special lines. They don't want to park in special parking places. They don't want to have any advantage given to them beyond anybody else because in their mind, they want to be treated fairly.

Mark: And Tobias Forrest, he jokes about the longer the line is, the more disabled I am. That's a joke of his. The reality is he's gotten that attitude and I guess that's what I'm saying. So many people I know with disabilities have that attitude, "I want to do as much as I absolutely positively can on my own. I don't want to be burden to anybody else more than I have to." And then, you've got these entitled people out there that are taking advantage of the system and by the way, ruining it – you know what I mean – for people who do need a little bit of assistance. So, it's an unfortunately position that Disney ends up in. I have to say that I understand it . I'm disappointed that they had to do something, but I’m glad that they're taking a look at it. I hope that it means they're taking a look at it in a way that'll bring it around to make it a better system.

Mike: Yeah, I do too. If there's any company that can be credited with exceptional creativity, it's Disney, right?

Mark: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, no question about that.

Mark: Any other thoughts on this or any other points that you want to make? We are getting to time here, so we do have to wrap it up.

Mike: My gut feeling is that this is mostly affecting families with kids. The program is probably the most beneficial to families with children who have disabilities. I don’t know the numbers (Disney hasn't provided them), but I would be surprised if a large number were actual fraudulent cases. My suspicion is that Disney has made it so, so easy, so accessible (to use the term) for people with disabilities to come to the parks that they're just attracting more folks with disabilities.

Mark: Well, let's hope so. I think that, you talked about sustainability earlier, regardless of the reason, it does have to be sustainable. It has to make financial sense or else it'll go away. We'd love to be able to make things happen that should happen just because, but the bottom line is if you continue to run something that is not in a sustainable state for too long, it vanishes. So yeah, even if this is all on the up-and-up and there is a very low amount of fraud going on, again, I'm glad that Disney is taking a step back and evaluating so that they can re-tool it into something that's sustainable for sure.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Well, we've got to wrap it. This is Mark Miller...

Mike: And this is Mike Guill...

Mark: Reminding you to keep it accessible.

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog


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