Dear Disney, Please Fix the DAS Program By Doing One Simple Thing

in Disney, Disneyland Resort, Featured, Walt Disney World

Image of a scenic sunset at disney world with cinderella's castle in the background. the word "solved" is superimposed in bold red letters across the image.

Credit: Becky Burkett/Canva

Disney Parks just made some massive changes to its Disability Access Services (DAS) Program–changes that have been met with anger and frustration from guests for whom the DAS has made enjoying the theme parks at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort possible–but who will no longer have access to the service because of the changes that have narrowed, yet again, the number of guests who can benefit from the service, as well as the types of diagnoses and conditions that will make guests eligible to use the service.

An image of a fairytale castle at a theme park at sunset with a bright sunburst in the background and a blue "das" logo with a circular arrow on the right side.
Credit: Becky Burkett/Disney/Canva

And though most Disney Parks fans will tell you that they can see merit in Disney’s attempts to ensure that the service is not being misused or abused, the fact remains that the changes to the program that were announced in early April will affect an untold number of guests who truly need the service and have never abused it, but who have now been rendered ineligible to use the service because of the new requirements for guests.

The DAS Service at Disney World & Disneyland

The Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida and Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, have offered the Disability Access Service (DAS) program for years, and during that time, there have been major overhauls to the program.

Two images of fairy-tale castles in theme parks under clear skies. the left shows a pink castle amid lush trees, and the right features a stone castle with blue rooftops.
Credit: Becky Burkett

In the past, the program was reserved for guests with disabilities or other illnesses or chronic conditions that precluded them from waiting in the queue for an attraction.

During that time, guests with physical disabilities that resulted in an inability to walk or stand could use the service, as could guests who had chronic medical conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and guests with developmental disabilities, including autism, as the ability to wait in a conventional queue for a ride or attraction for those guests was greatly affected by their conditions.

Misuse of the Service Leads to New Restrictions

However, it soon became apparent that stricter guidelines related to eligibility were needed with the DAS program, as it was discovered that many guests were taking advantage of the service and feigning physical disabilities. There were copious stories about guests going so far as to “hire” people with disabilities to accompany them on their visits to Disney’s theme parks so they could have a traveling party for which waiting in long lines was no longer necessary.

A bustling amusement park scene with visitors waiting in line near ornate, castle-themed ride entrances. the crowd includes diverse groups of adults and children, some in wheelchairs, under indoor lighting.
Credit: Flickr/Michael Gray

As a result, changes were made to the service that ended eligibility for guests who had physical disabilities. For example, guests with mobility limitations that affected their ability to walk and move around could no longer use the DAS service, which made sense, as Disney’s rides and attractions were accessible to those guests.

But the move was also made in an effort to squash the opportunities for misuse by guests who had no disabilities that would preclude them from waiting in line for various attractions at Disney World and Disneyland.

At that time, guests with other conditions, including IBS and developmental disabilities, could continue to use the service so long as their ability to stand in the queue was affected by their respective conditions.

Securing a DAS Pass was easy, as it required only that the guest with a disability or chronic condition stop by Guest Relations at the theme park on the day of their visit and allow a cast member to take their name and photo. A paper pass was then created that displayed the guest’s name, his or her photo, and the number of guests in the traveling party.

A bustling amusement park scene with visitors waiting in line near ornate, castle-themed ride entrances. the crowd includes diverse groups of adults and children, some in wheelchairs, under indoor lighting.
Credit: Flickr/Michael Gray

But in 2021, as Disney got somewhat more strict with its DAS requirements, the way in which the DAS Pass was secured was simplified, as was the way in which a return time for an attraction was secured.

The simplified way included the ability for a guest to secure a DAS Pass days ahead of his or her arrival at the parks by contacting Disney and having a virtual face-to-face meeting with a cast member before ever arriving at the parks.

This eliminated the need for guests to stand in line at Guest Relations once they arrived–something that made little sense, especially when the program’s main goal was to offer assistance to guests for whom waiting in line presented issues on its own.

Additionally, guests using the DAS Pass could reserve a return time for an attraction via the My Disney Experience app rather than physically approaching the kiosk at an attraction and requesting a return time from a cast member.

Overhead view of a colorful indoor amusement park with people enjoying various games and activities, showcasing bright lights and playful decor.
Credit: Flickr/Brett Kiger

By and large, those changes were well-received by guests with disabilities, as well as their caregivers, this writer included.

But earlier this month, Disney announced changes to the service that have left some guests angry and frustrated, and some of them feel like the changes mean their disabilities and chronic medical conditions simply don’t matter.

Changes to the DAS Service That Exclude Many

In early April 2024, Disney announced it would be revamping the DAS service yet again. Thankfully, the parks are not shelving the program, but changes to the registration process, eligibility requirements, and the length of validity for a DAS Pass are coming, and many guests who were previously eligible to use the service will no longer be eligible once the changes roll out in May 2024.

Beginning in May, in-person visits to register for the service will no longer be available, meaning that every guest who wishes to use the DAS service must register and have a virtual visit with a cast member online.

A crowded theme park scene featuring a sign reading "it's a small world line starts here" with a 60-minute wait time indicator, and people, including a child on someone's shoulders, in the background.
Credit: Flickr/Peter Lee

As part of the changes to the service, DAS Passes will only be valid for the duration of a guest’s ticket or 120 days, whichever is shorter, which means guests who meet the eligibility requirements to use the service must re-register for each visit to the parks. By contrast, at one time, the DAS Pass remained valid for up to two years once a guest registered for the service. Most recently, the pass was valid for up to 30 days following registration.

But perhaps the most painful changes coming to the DAS service are the ones associated with determining whether a guest is eligible to use the service at all.

The DAS Is Only Intended For a Few Guests

In a recent statement, a spokesperson for Disney said, “Disney is dedicated to providing a great experience for all guests, including those with disabilities, which is why we are so committed to delivering a wide range of innovative support services aimed at helping our guests with disabilities have a wonderful time when visiting our theme parks.”

But on Disney’s official website, the DAS program is described as being intended “to accommodate a small percentage of Guests who, due to a developmental disability like autism or similar, are unable to wait in a conventional queue for an extended period of time.”

Until the most recent changes were announced, many guests who were unable to wait in long lines in the parks because of a condition other than a developmental disability were able to access the DAS service.

But Disney’s newest changes will likely restrict many of those guests from having a DAS Pass–something that is not sitting well with those who are affected by the changes.

The Fallout So Far

Though it hasn’t been very long since the changes to the DAS program were announced, the effects of those changes have already begun to show themselves. Many Disney Parks fans who have been eligible to use the DAS service in the past have discovered that the recent changes to the eligibility requirements will keep them from accessing those services in the future.

A digital flyer featuring a night sky background with sparkles and fireworks on the left, and text on the right detailing an event on "service america policy" with a list of speakers and topics.
Credit: DAS Defenders

Earlier this week, the fallout was felt by fans who were forced to wait for hours to talk to a cast member to begin the registration process for the DAS Pass, and a group of “DAS defenders,” who describe themselves as advocates for people with disabilities, penned a four-page letter to Disney, imploring the company to reconsider the changes to the DAS program that are slated to take effect in May and calling for “immediate action” to be taken.

A petition was also begun at Change.org.

The One Change Disney Can Make That Will Forever “Fix” the DAS Program

Will Disney feel obliged to offer a response to the aforementioned letter and petition? That remains to be seen.

And even if Disney does respond, it’s unclear whether that response would include backtracking from the changes to the DAS program that were rolled out weeks ago. But there’s one thing that could absolutely fix the seemingly broken and ever-in-need-of-revamping DAS program, and it’s so simple that it’s nearly inconceivable that Disney has yet to include it as part of the program.

In 2010, we took my four little ones to Disney World for their first trip. As my oldest son has autism, the idea of a DAS Pass sounded too good to be true. But it turned out to be one of the things in life that was exactly as great as it sounded, if not better.

Two young girls with joyful expressions hugging each other in front of a blue, aquarium-like backdrop. one girl wears a yellow shirt, the other a floral top.
Credit: Becky Burkett

With four little ones in tow–ages 4, 6, 8, and 9, we traversed every “mountain” at Magic Kingdom, sought out Mickey, Minnie, Tinker Bell, and the princesses, ate more than our weight in food and unnecessary snacks, had ice cream at Auntie Gravity’s in Tomorrowland, said hello to Br’er Rabbit in Frontierland, and stopped at the Confectionery at least twice–and that was just part of Day One.

And the DAS Pass made that possible.

Day Two played out before us at EPCOT, and the DAS Pass proved magical once again. And again at Hollywood Studios and again at Animal Kingdom. For families that include someone with a disability, the DAS Pass is a little piece of tangible magic that makes more magic. And I can’t imagine not having it as an option.

Composite image featuring iconic disney theme park landmarks: epcot's spaceship earth, cinderella castle, and the hollywood tower hotel, set against a dramatic sunset sky.
Credit: Disney Parks

But from the very first time I registered my son for a DAS Pass, I wondered, Why doesn’t Disney World require a doctor’s note–or some type of documentation that could serve as proof of a disability? It made sense to me then, and it makes sense to me now.

With some kind of documentation from a medical professional, Disney wins because they can be mostly assured that the guest has an actual condition–and the guest wins because he or she can gain access to the DAS Pass, whether the condition is a medical condition or a developmental disability.

Obviously, health information privacy legislation would likely mean Disney would need to implement safeguards when it comes to the documentation and the storage of associated information, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s just say we’ll leave that to the grab bag of attorneys Disney undoubtedly has at its disposal.

Clearly, my son’s ability to secure a DAS Pass will not be affected by the most recent changes to the DAS program, but for the untold number of guests who will be affected, such a solution could ultimately be the difference between having the opportunity to enjoy the parks and choosing instead to stay home.

A captivating view of a fairytale castle with spires, under a dramatic sky with scattered clouds and beams of sunlight, surrounded by lush greenery.
Credit: Becky Burkett

Such documentation would reduce misuse and abuse of the system, allow more guests in need of accommodations to secure them, and ensure that the special kind of magic brought on by a DAS Pass is granted to guests most in need of it.

Whether Disney will ultimately move to requiring such documentation remains to be seen.

Additional Offerings at the Parks For Guests in Need of Accommodations

In addition to the DAS program, Disney has other available accommodations available to guests with hearing impairments, visual impairments, and challenges with sensory input. Those include, but are not limited to:

  • American Sign Language interpretation at select activities
  • Handheld Devices to provide assistive listening, in addition to the use of captions and visual descriptions for guests with a hearing impairment
  • Guidebooks and maps in Braille for guests with vision impairments
  • Sensory guides for some attractions

Don’t Make Any Assumptions

If you’ve previously been able to access the DAS program at Disneyland or Disney World, but you’re concerned now that you won’t meet the criteria to use the service, it can be worth your time to speak with a specially-trained cast member, regardless.

Statue of walt disney holding hands with mickey mouse, known as the "partners" statue, with cinderella castle in the background at a sunny disney theme park.
Credit: Becky Burkett

Disney hasn’t released a list of conditions and disabilities that will allow a guest to access the service, and because every scenario is different, you may be able to explain your situation in an effort to learn about the options that might be available to you.

For the latest information about Disney’s DAS Program, you can click here.

in Disney, Disneyland Resort, Featured, Walt Disney World

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