I’ve been thinking about Disney’s elimination of the GAC and its accompanying accommodations for weeks since the first rumors of such a change leaked. In the beginning, I worried that my anger and frustration stemmed from my typical resistance to change. I made several calls to Disney HQ, but did not get very far. There was little insight to glean from those calls as everything was initially denied, then noted as confidential. Their representative did try to head off my anxiety with reassurance that their executive management team was listening to the Autism community and putting thoughtful consideration into the development of an alternate program. Well, today is October 9th – the day of GAC death and DAS birth. Disneyland’s newly posted services web page makes it very clear where to root of my sadness on this issue resides. The new services page demonstrates the total lack of understanding or compassion to the cognitive differences our children cope with everyday. In essence, this new policy reads with the same awful lenses so many of us spectrum parents have become accustomed to in our everyday lives. Read it and tell me if you don’t get the tone of, “Buck up and do a better job parenting your cognitively disabled child so that your children can enjoy our park with the same expected behaviors of neurotypical families.”
The, “How to Prepare,” segment of this page was especially insulting – especially considering how so many of us already make good use of the standard communication tools. From PECS to visual schedules, watching videos, and studying maps, I can assure the executive staff at Disney that most of us Autism parents were introduced to such basic concepts back in the days of early intervention. Yes, these are effective tools, but most of us already employ these measures and more to prepare our children for any necessary scenario. I’m a pro at writing social stories for my son – I’ve even made the occasional video – and yes there were days that we relied heavily on a visual schedule. However, none of these tools can adequately prepare a child with cognitive disabilities, including sensory dysfunction, for the disruption to routine planning that is inherent with visiting an amusement park. Furthermore, the mere suggestion that we practice waiting in line is absurd. Most of us are already doing this in an attempt to push our child’s tolerance to a more acceptable level – and yet our children still have severe limits with waiting. There are no local venues with the same level of sensory overload and hostility as one might find inside the gates of Disneyland. I’ve also got to say that if Disney really thinks that simply bringing a sensory toy, “like a stress ball or other calming item,” will prevent a child from experiencing sensory overload, then perhaps the managers that crafted such trite advice should spend 100+ hours with a licensed occupational therapist so that they can truly understand the real world impact of sensory dysfunction.
I am sad that Disney’s position appears to be that our children can handle the new DAS without accommodations that enable our children to wait for their turn at an uncrowded alternate entrance to attractions. I am sad that they believe that our children can cope with a loud and boisterous crowd, while waiting in line, if we only pacify our child with electronic devices. Devices that many smart parents would worry about breaking or losing during such a visit. I don’t have money to replace my son’s iPad; I’m knee deep in out of pocket medical costs, $100 fish oil and other learning aids/therapies. I do not understand why Disney would not make some compromises to the new program – including the ability to schedule multiple attractions at their guest services kiosks. Not every child with mobility and strength issues is in a wheel chair. Children with metabolic disorders and mitochondrial dysfunction also cope with strength and endurance. There is an entire range of biomedical and physiological conditions that co-morbidly affect children with cognitive disabilities. The need to return to service kiosks for every attraction is debilitating and draining. Surely it would be possible to schedule 3-4 attractions at one time. This would make such a procedure more amicable for children with cognitive disabilities.
I am hopeful that the peaceful protest arranged by McClain Special Needs Advocacy gets the media attention needed to turn this change into a public relations nightmare for Disney Parks. I am praying that their executives will actually listen to our community and offer some compromise that doesn’t read like the biased-inadequate-parenting-garbage that so many of us must encounter in our daily routines. Is Disneyland the happiest place on Earth? No longer, if you possess a cognitive disability. What I have gathered from Disney Parks latest action is that they no longer care to pretend they accept or understand the differences and challenges of cognitive disabilities, like my son’s Autism. Game over. The final bell of magical happiness for my child’s future vacations at Disneyland has tolled.
Information on the New Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card
Services for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities