This post offers our first-hand experience and tips for using the Disability Access Service (DAS) at Walt Disney World, formerly the Guest Assistance Card, for those with special needs to experience attractions. This is based on our recent trip with my dad, who has a service dog.
I’m sharing this more in-depth posts in response to reader comments on our Bricker Family Walt Disney World Trip Report, but I want to make it abundantly clear that this is anecdotal. We have a grand total of four days experience with DAS at Walt Disney World, and are far from experts on it.
Rather than relying solely on this post for DAS and other accessibility tips, I’d recommend reading the resources on Autism at the Parks (it’s useful for disabilities other than autism) and Rolling with the Magic. If you have questions and want personalized responses, I highly recommend asking on the Disboards disABILITIES! forum, which is a great and welcoming community. This post is only accurate to the extent of our experience. With that said, here’s a look at our experience with using DAS at Walt Disney World…
Let’s start with the process for obtaining the Disability Access Service, and how it works. If a guest needs DAS, the pass (it’s really more a status in My Disney Experience than a pass like the old Guest Assistance Card) can be obtained at Guest Relations in the four theme parks.
Eligibility for Disability Access Service is based upon a guest’s need, not diagnosis. Cast Members will not, and by law cannot, ask for proof of a disability. Rather, they will ask fairly open-ended and vague questions about the type of accommodations a guest needs based on the disability or condition.
These Guest Relations Cast Members who issue the DAS are well-trained on this probably in equal parts because they are the creme-de-la-creme of Walt Disney World Cast Members, and because Disney wants to steer clear of ADA violations.
When the inquiry is complete, the guest with the disability has their picture taken and the Disability Access Service is added to their My Disney Experience account, and it’s accessible via MagicBand or theme park tickets at kiosks outside attractions. All family members who will be experiencing attractions with the guest obtaining the DAS need to be present at Guest Relations to have their MagicBands scanned, too.
After this is done, the DAS status is valid for 14 days (60 days for Annual Passholders) across all Walt Disney World parks. Waiting in line was the longest part of this, with the whole process from start to finish taking us less than 5 minutes after that. It was painless.
Once a guest has DAS status, they or one of the other party members who had their MagicBand scanned can head to a Cast Member outside the attraction to obtain a return time. (In our experience, this Cast Member was usually holding an iPad-like device and standing under an umbrella outside the queue.) Since my dad has somewhat-limited mobility, we sometimes sent a “runner” to the attraction to obtain a return time, while he sat elsewhere.
The return time is determined by adding the current wait time for the attraction to the current time and subtracting 10 minutes (to account for transit to/from the attraction). For example, if it’s noon and Frozen Ever After has a 90 minute wait, the DAS return time would be 1:20 p.m. DAS is not a front of line pass or some sort of “Golden Ticket.”
While any party member can obtain the return time, the guest with the disability must be present for the other party members to board the attraction at that return time.
Note that you can use DAS in tandem with FastPass+, but we did not. Part of that is because it felt a bit like double-dipping (my dad has never met a rule he doesn’t follow), and part was because that would’ve been too much for us to do in terms of walking with my dad and his service dog. Sarah and I usually booked FastPass+ separately for the evenings after my parents left the parks for the day.
Usually, the DAS return line was simply the FastPass+ return line. On some older attractions (particularly those in Magic Kingdom) the DAS line was different, or branched off from the FastPass+ line. In all newer attractions, the DAS process went smoothly; it was easy to use and felt genuinely accommodating.
That’s the process in a nutshell, but I’m sure that leaves plenty of questions unanswered. Disney has an official Disability Access Service FAQ that addresses additional questions (and I’m happy to answer other questions–within the scope of my knowledge–in the comments to this post).
On older attractions where retrofits were made to make reasonable accommodations under the ADA (enacted in 1990–Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Epcot in 1982, the Studios in 1989, and Animal Kingdom in 1998), it was far less smooth and pleasant. This was particularly true in Magic Kingdom where there are several attractions built in the 1970s.
The retrofit would not have been a problem in and of itself. It was exacerbated by Cast Members who were (typically) performing double-duty managing FastPass+ lines and also trying to accommodate DAS guests. While I cannot say we had any negative or rude encounters directly, we did witness some attitudes that seemed less than “accommodating.”
I’m not sure whether there’s some causation or if it’s just correlation (again, we only did this for 4 days, so this is totally anecdotal), but these unpleasant encounters were almost exclusively on older attractions with more convoluted DAS procedures. These procedures no doubt stress out Cast Members, too.
This is not to give Cast Members a pass for being anything less than accommodating. It is what it is. I was a bit surprised that Disney does not have dedicated DAS Cast Members at each attraction, trained in the same manner as Guest Relations Cast Members.
Not only would this be a more guest-friendly approach, but it would behoove Disney to do so from a legal liability perspective. Again, there’s a narrow set of questions Cast Members can ask without running afoul of the ADA. (I’ll just leave it at that…)
With that said, our experience was resoundingly positive, particularly outside of Magic Kingdom. Cast Members were largely very friendly and eager to help, and this was particularly true at Epcot and at Toy Story Mania in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Cast Members at Toy Story Mania were, far and away, the best we encountered over the course of the trip. (And this was multiple Cast Members, so it was not a one-off.)
What follows is more specific to our experience with my dad using a service dog at Walt Disney World, and not necessarily representative of what anyone else using DAS will encounter. I figure it’s nonetheless (potentially) helpful to read others’ anecdotes…
In terms of using the pass, there were some limitations we would have faced by virtue of the service dog. For example, Big Thunder Mountain, Expedition Everest, and other intense attractions would’ve been off the table because of the service dog. My dad can’t do those anyway, so it was a moot point.
The service dog was allowed on boat rides, such as Gran Fiesta Tour and Frozen Ever After, but we should not have done the latter. When describing the attraction to my parents, I forgot to mention the backwards drop, which freaked his service dog out. Oops. (In my defense, they had been on Maelstrom countless times.)
Outside of DAS, our experience using a service dog at Walt Disney World was pretty positive. I know my dad would’ve preferred to stay at Shades of Green, but the Fort Wilderness Cabins were an excellent (and far better) option with the service dog. I’d highly recommend Fort Wilderness to anyone with a service dog.
The one caveat here is that you definitely want to specify that you have a service dog when completing online check-in and also additionally request being close to a bus stop. We were placed in one of the accessible cabins, but a bit farther from the bus stop than ideal. Fort Wilderness is a huge resort that can mean a good deal of walking and changing buses. However, it’s far more inviting to a service dog than a hotel.
Table service restaurants were a bit hit or miss. There were a couple of times when we were seated in the middle of a crowded restaurant when tables along the perimeter, away from other guests were available. Usually, requesting to be moved worked fine, but I was surprised we wouldn’t have been seated in these spots to begin with.
I want to give Disney the benefit of the doubt on this one. Perhaps staff at these restaurants do not want guests with service animals to feel ostracized? My parents’ take is that they’d prefer to have a bit of space away from others in the restaurant, and they also understand that a restaurant is a restaurant, and other patrons may not want to be around an animal. It’s quite possible others with service animals have different perspectives, though.
Beyond that, it felt like Cast Members went above and beyond more often. Even those who were not assisting with the DAS process were particularly helpful and friendly. In large part this was probably because my dad has a visible disability and a service dog wearing a vest, so I’m not sure it’s something every guest with disabilities will experience. It was nice, though.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the Disability Access Service at Walt Disney World. The biggest is that it’s a front of line pass. Again, it’s not. There is the potential for abuse, but the system is imperfect out of legal necessity. (I’ll reiterate for the third time that this is by virtue of the ADA.) All things considered, my perspective is that DAS abuse is de minimis. Over the course of an entire day, you might maybe wait an aggregate of 5 extra minutes in line due to DAS abuse. At most.
However, since the controversy a few years ago about the Guest Assistance Card, there’s a lot more scrutiny concerning guests using DAS and this lingering belief among some other guests that they are being ‘disadvantaged’ by the system. This manifests itself in the form of disdain towards other guests using DAS. We did not experience these attitudes firsthand (my dad’s disability is plainly visible), but I’ve witnessed it both over the course of our visits and in reading online discussions.
My advice here would be to, respectfully, mind your own business. There are myriad invisible disabilities from which other guests could suffer, and the judgmental gaze of guests ‘scanning’ a person using DAS to ‘make sure’ they really have a disability and are not gaming the system is…I don’t even know. I can only imagine how it’d make me feel if I were on the receiving end of those judgmental stares.
Unless you’ve recently been nominated to the post of World Police, don’t give it any thought. Even if people are still gaming the new system (if there’s a system to be gamed, it will be gamed), what does fixating on it accomplish? There is absolutely zero upside.
Not only is the weight of your eyes invariably falling on someone with an invisible disability (an unpleasantness they likely feel all too frequently) but you’re upsetting yourself with something that’s entirely outside of your control. Life is too short for that, and it’s far better to be happy at Walt Disney World.
Overall, I would say our experience with Disability Access Service at Walt Disney World was mostly positive. I’ve struck a few cautionary notes here, and that’s mostly so those first-timers with disabilities go in with realistic expectations. Walt Disney World has a deserved reputation as being incredibly accommodating, and going above and beyond. This does not mean your visit will be without hiccups, though. Anything with humans is an imperfect system with the potential for inconsistency, and that’s true here. There’s also the balancing act Disney has to perform between using DAS to reasonably accommodate guests in need, while also discouraging widespread abuse, and maintain normal attraction operations. That is a very tough balancing act, and to Walt Disney World’s credit, I think that by and large, the system is pretty good from that perspective. But again, we only had 4 days of experience, and my opinion of the system is entirely predicated upon that limited exposure.
If you have experience with using the Disability Access Service at Walt Disney World, what do you think of the experience? Anything we didn’t cover here? Other things to know? Strengths of DAS? Weaknesses? Any other Disability Access Service tips of your own to add? If you have not yet used DAS but are considering it, do you have any questions that we did not answer here? Please feel free to share your personal anecdotes about DAS and other thoughts in the comments below!