This fall, Disney theme parks are revamping the Guest Assistance Card that recently became the source of controversy. Is Disney going overboard to curb a small amount of abuse? Find out what the parent of a child with special needs has to say about the changes.

When I heard about Disney's changes to the Guest Assistance Card program, my gut reaction was sickening disappointment. We've been passholders since 2009. I live about an hour and a half away from Walt Disney World. I have a son with special needs. Disney is our happy place. What happens next?

What's actually happening with the Guest Assistance Card?

The new Disability Access Service (DAS) Card program begins Oct. 9 and will give guests a specified time to come back to rides based on the current wait time.

According to Disney's official announcement, the new Disability Access Service (DAS) Card program began on Oct. 9. Functioning similarly to the existing Fast Pass system, the DAS Card will give guests a specified time to come back to rides based on the current wait time. Many details are still fuzzy. How many guests will be able to accompany the guest with a DAS Card? How will this work for shows? What steps or screening measures will be taken to curb alleged abuse? It will likely take several weeks — or even months — for Disney to implement and fine tune the process.

Everyone takes wait times seriously

In talking to other Disney fans and guests, I started to see that the Guest Assistance Card issue felt personal even to those who weren't directly affected by changes. Reactions to the program changes aren't universal, but a sense of ownership as a park guest is. Almost everyone who visits Walt Disney World or Disneyland drops a ton of cash to get there and enjoy the parks. When you're spending that kind of money, everything feels personal, and wait times are a hot button issue. Even families who are perfectly capable of waiting in long lines don't actually like waiting in long lines. Disney's queues are the most entertaining and scenic in the industry, but a line is still a line. For those traveling a significant distance to the parks, wait times can be especially disappointing.

The Smug Superparent needs you to chill out

waiting for a Disney paradeI've been following the news regarding the changes, including Disney's official blog post. One theme I've seen in comments is what I refer to as the Smug Superparent. This parent doesn't care about the changes. This parent has a child with special needs — but didn't use the Guest Assistance Card. This parent thinks you should slow down and enjoy the magic. Enjoy spending time with your children in line. Get swept up in the Disney experience! As a lifelong Floridian who still gets goose bumps every time she drives onto the property, I can tell you that I always feel the Disney magic. I also understand that kids with special needs and disabilities are all different. What works for my family won't work for others. What works for the Smug Superparent's family probably won't work for mine.

Ideal or not, change is necessary

I can see why these changes were made. The Guest Assistance Card was simply too easy to abuse and usage was becoming too widespread. That being said, no matter how hard Disney tries to make the new program work for everyone, some families will be negatively impacted by the changes. Families in the autism community have been particularly distressed by the changes. Disney has worked with Autism Speaks, but Autism Speaks does not represent the interests of every family in the autism community. It's my hope that as the DAS Card is implemented, tweaks can be made on the basis of individual needs — not only regarding children with autism, but guests of all ages and disabilities.

Embracing the magic via cautious optimism

It isn't going to stop me from renewing my passes. It will change the way my family experiences Disney — but I hope that it won't be as bad as I initially feared.

With my first single parent trip to Disney with two kids under my belt, I'm even more keenly aware of my child's limitations. It won't be the same visiting the parks with the DAS Card. Can I make it work for me? Yes. Will it be as convenient? No. In 2011 I wrote, "I will be forever grateful that the Walt Disney World staff goes the helpful extra mile to make attractions as welcoming and accessible for my son as possible." The DAS Card isn't going to change the fact that Disney's restaurants have been incredibly accommodating with my son's severe food allergy. It isn't going to stop me from renewing my passes. It will change the way my family experiences Disney — but I hope that it won't be as bad as I initially feared. Most of all, I hope families with greater needs than mine will still be able to experience the magic that means so much to so many children.

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