Disney recently changed its policy regarding disabled guests and how they could access rides (for the official policy from Disney, see here). We just got back from a trip to WDW with my parents where I experienced these changes first hand. And let me say, I am NOT impressed. The changes do not help those who need it- in fact, the policy is confusing and not handled well.
This was my parent's fourth trip to WDW with us, and for her previous three trips, she had a GAC (Guest Access Card) that allowed her to enter an attraction through an alternate entrance- usually the fastpass line. My mom has arthritis in her back, hips, left knee, and feet. She had a total right knee replacement in February of 2012. Thanks to her knee replacement, she is now able to walk without pain- although she is quite slow. However, she can't do stairs (she doesn't trust the strength of her knee on stairs), and she is unable to stand in lines well.
On our first day at WDW, we went to Hollywood Studios. We stopped at Guest Relations with her GAC from a previous trip, and explained her limitations to them. They told her she didn't qualify for a DAS (Disability Access Service) card because she could use a courtesy wheelchair (that is supposed to available at every attraction) in the queues. I explained again that she was unable to do stairs, and how would a wheelchair help her in queues with stairs? I was told again that she could use a wheelchair that was available at the attraction. I felt that the Cast Member at Guest Relations wasn't truly listening to what I was saying, but simply repeating the stock line of "use the courtesy wheelchair." Maybe it's because I'm a blonde, but I don't understand how I am suppose to push my mom up and down stairs in a wheelchair. So, we left Guest Relations and just went into the park.
We had FastPasses for Toy Story Mania, so we decided to just talk to the Cast Members at the attraction and tell them her limitation. We explained to the first Cast Member who looked at our FastPasses, and they said to simply tell the next Cast Member. We then told the Cast Member who took our FastPasses, and without delay, they sent us up the ramp to the handicap loading area. They were all very nice and polite about the situation.
The next day, we went to the Magic Kingdom, and knowing that two of my mom's favorite rides have stairs (Tomorrowland Speedway and Splash Mountain), we asked again at Guest Relations about a DAS card. For the second day in a row, I was told to put her in a wheelchair for stairs. Again, I tried to explain that I didn't see how that would work, and was told to use a wheelchair. By this point, I was getting rather frustrated that Guest Relations wasn't listening and was simply saying the same thing over and over. So once again, we figured we would just see how it went at the rides.
The first ride she did was Splash Mountain. The Cast Member at the entrance was great. He escorted her and Matthew (the only ones riding) to a second Cast Member, who took them through the exit and onto the ride. They both said the experience was a very good one. Later in the ay, we went to Tomorrowland Speedway. Now, she not only can't do stairs, but she also needs extra time getting in and out of the car. We explained this to the Cast Member at the entrance to the attraction, and the first thing he asked us was "Does she have a DAS pass for that? She should have one." I explained to him that she had been denied one, and he looked at me like I had three heads. But, he immediately took her in through the alternate entrance and was extremely polite and nice. He explained that she would enter and exit this way, and that she could have as much time as she needed getting in and out of the car. I thought it was very interesting that the Cast Members at the rides were expecting at DAS card while we had been told repeatedly that she didn't need one.
Our fourth day we went to Animal Kingdom, and mom was still proud of the fact that she was walking around, but she was definitely getting slower and the crazy hot and humid days were starting to take their toll on her. We obtained FastPasses for the Safari (again, doing what Disney suggested to minimize her time in lines) and went to the line at our return time. For whatever reason, the FastPass return line was over 30 minutes and not moving. Mom knew at this point that standing in one place wasn't going to happen at this point and had finally ok'd sitting in a wheelchair. There was a Cast Member walking through the line telling us it would be a few minutes before the line started moving. We told her that my mom couldn't stand in one place for long and the Cast Member told us "The line will start moving again before too much longer." Well, that's great, but for the time being, my mom was still standing and definitely wilting. Again, we told the Cast Member "She can't stand for long- is there anything that can be done for her?" The Cast Member repeated her statement that "The line will move soon." It's my understanding- based on what I had been told repeatedly at Guest Relations- that she should have been offered a courtesy wheelchair. This didn't happen.
All in all, I ended up going to Guest Relations five times over seven days in the parks. Every time, I walked out more and more frustrated. I felt that I was NOT being listened to. In fact, two of the times I went with complaints about how we were treated by Cast Members, nothing was written down. Guest Relations simply said "Sorry, that shouldn't have happened" and sent us on our way. There seems to be a huge disconnect with what guests are being told at Guest Relations and what is actually happening at the rides. The new DAS system is NOT helping those who need help. Yes, I agree that Disney needed to do something about the abuse that was happening with the GAC, but this new system is not the answer. It is penalizing people who actually need help, and guests are not being listened to. I came away completely frustrated and upset over this- not the way you want to feel after a Disney vacation.