We just got back tonight from our first trip to Disneyland in over a year due to all of the medical issues Alex had this year. Back in October when they announced the changes to the special needs pass system I was, like everyone else very disappointed. We love going to Disneyland because their treatment of Alex & his awesome experiences there, it makes the overpriced food & crazy ear hats worth every penny.
I signed the moveon.org petition, I posted on the Disneyland Facebook page & blog, my mother in law made several calls. We were not happy about the changes. Then Disneyland posted their official new policy and I read a few positive experiences, my faith was renewed that indeed Disney would make right on this change. I really believed that they would. I vowed to go there with a positive attitude that the change would be okay, after all this was the place that had always been pure magic for Alex.
So Sunday afternoon with my newly purchased annual pass (our first) and my positive attitude I lined up in a HUGE line to get our new DAS card, thankfully my sister flagged down an employee asking for a ramp since Alex was in his push (stroller) & he directed us around the side where we were helped pretty quickly. The cast member there was very friendly and issued us a DAS card & a “stroller as wheelchair” sticker to put on the stroller. She then took out a DL map & circled 9 attractions to use the “SAW” at (to use the SAW system you go to the exit & they give you a little card with a return time on it). They took Alex’s picture & printed out a fold over card with empty lines on it & Alex’s picture for identification so no one else can use his pass. Seemed like a simple system:
1) Find a kiosk in one of the 4 places around the park.
2) Tell the cast member what ride you want to ride next
3) They look up the current wait time for people in the line, subtract 15 minutes & then write down your return time on your DAS card (ie: Matterhorn posted wait 45 minutes minus 15 minutes = 30 minutes; current time 3:00pm you can go to the Matterhorn at 3:30)
4) You return to the attraction at (or after) your appointed time to go on the ride.
5) At the ride the cast member crosses that ride & return time off your card after you are waiting to board.
6) After the attraction you go back to the kiosk & start the whole process again. Alex didn’t have to be present to get a return time so you can send one party member over to the kiosk without having to make Alex sprint all over.
7) You can only get 1 return time & cannot get another one until the first one is crossed off.
So the first thing we did was get a Matterhorn return time, it was like 40 minutes. Thumbs down thought Alex, he was ready for a fix. So we sold him that we’d take a trip over to “Santa Blue Boats” (Alex speak for It’s a Small World”). Here we encountered a line of wheelchairs in the “SAW” line. We waited our turn & it was fine, the old pass system never guaranteed you immediate access either so that wasn’t a surprise. Our trip back to the Matterhorn was ok, we got on with about the same about of waiting as we did before, just enough time for them to work us into the boarding. Ok we’re getting the hang of this.
Then we hit our first issue. Alex wanted the Matterhorn again, so we had to wait for the 40 minutes again. This actually is the same as the old system, on the old system you were not supposed to hit attractions over & over when there was a line. In an effort to distract Harold’s best friend Alex we headed to Space Mountain to use the SAW system. Then screeeecchhhh to a halt, I had my first really rude cast member who argued with me that we couldn’t use both systems. I showed him the map from City Hall with the circles around the attractions where we were supposed to use the SAW system & he was steadfast, we were not boarding the spaceship unless someone was landing the Apollo 12 out in front of Buzz Lightyear. So I turned around to walk back out to my pissed off kid when another cast member asked if he could help me, I will admit I kinda rattled off on the poor guy. Not rudely or anything, I just couldn’t understand how City Hall could say one thing, complete with a circled map & the last guy said something completely different... it seemed like the right hand & the left hand had no idea what they were doing.
This guy was nicer though, he at least explained something that I was missing: the SAW system is for people who need the actual wheelchair cars for things like IASW & Space Mountain, these take a lot longer to cycle through so those lines are often very slow because there might only be 1 of those cars. The DAS card is like a fast pass system but there is no way around the planning part or the waiting part. BUT he gave us a little info gem: we now should use the regular fast pass systems where available also, then we could in fact be ticking down wait times on 2 attractions at once.
The lightbulb came on & we got it. This is a system that you have to WORK. You have to become that person who now plans which ride is next & schedules dinner around the fast pass you have for Space Mountain that says 6:25-7:25 because otherwise you are wasting those precious minutes that you are ticking down. Also when lines are short you just bite the bullet & wait in the regular line while waiting for your return time to come on other attractions, for us that is only possible when there are a group of us that can insulate Alex from getting too close to an unsuspecting park visitor who doesn’t want to get a pinch from an excited kid who can’t keep his hands to himself.
My overall impression is that I see what their intention wasn’t evil was in designing this system. But honestly the rigidity of this system feels really harsh at times, it’s hard to explain why we have to walk past the thing Alex is asking for to go to another ride so that we can cross that attraction off & then go get a wait time for the thing that he was wanting 45 minutes ago… see how that can hurt your head? Also I will say that on this trip I encountered a LOT of RUDE cast members, way way way more than I have ever before, we have probably been to Disneyland 20 times in the last 15 years so that is saying a lot. One woman in particular was just snarky & hateful, she really should have been in one of the villain costumes, not wearing the plaid that usually reserved for people with magical customer service skills. I’m sure they are tired of complaining parents but I was really trying to be positive but the attitude of “shut up & stop whining” is not appreciated.
The thing that I found the saddest though was the feeling that the “rock star” status was gone. I know that some people reading this will think “good, that treatment was not fair” but if you are thinking that I want you to really think about what I say next. Nowhere else on the planet does Alex get that, everywhere Alex goes he struggles, he gets stared at, he bends to fit into the norms that society wants. But at Disneyland, the playing field was leveled. Alex was something special there, they treated him kindly & he was able to FEEL special. Sure there is staring at Disneyland too, but walking up to rides & being able to access them without a huge line was really amazing for him. To have his cousin want to go with Alex because Alex has a special perk made Alex feel good (not that his cousin doesn’t want to go with him because he loves Alex but that line perk was Alex’s gift back to Todd for putting up with the other things that he often does). I hope that somehow Disney brings that special feeling back, that they let cast members to use some judgment in situations when it’s clear that this is a valid use of the DAS system. I hope that they realize that the rigidity makes it unnecessarily hard for some people.
And for the record… I still saw the abuses with my own eyes. We saw a group of teenagers playing the “it’s your turn to be in the wheelchair” game so that is still happening but Alex had to turn himself into a pretzel over not having a return time for the Matterhorn when he needed one. Come on Disney… that doesn’t exactly make sense does it? I’m not delusional, I know the old system had to change I just want them to rethink parts of this system to make more sense for those with developmental disabilities.