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Disability Access

'Imagine something': Disabled Disney guests demand action after DAS program changes

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Charisma Mangahas has 鈥渂een a lover of Disney ever since I was a kid.鈥

Being diagnosed with , a rare nerve-damaging disorder, in 2018 changed the way she experienced the parks. A recent overhaul of Disney鈥檚 policies for guests with disabilities is changing it again.

鈥淚 was recently denied the here at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure,鈥 the Magic Key (annual pass) holder said in a on TikTok and been shared across other social media.

She鈥檚 not the only one who no longer qualifies for Disability Access Services. Now more than 23,000 signees are .鈥

What is Disability Access Service?聽

Charisma Mangahas sits beside a Disney topiary and plaque that reads "Enabled."

Disney鈥檚 Disability Access Service is one of the various accommodations available for guests with disabilities at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, which have historically been known for their accessibility. The service doesn鈥檛 cut wait times, but it allows guests to wait for rides outside of a traditional line by joining the queue virtually, waiting out the designated time elsewhere in the park, and then heading to the attraction during a specified return window for a shorter in-person wait.聽

To qualify, guests must go through an interview before their park visit.

What is eligible for Disability Access Services?

Disney World and Disneyland鈥檚 websites say the service is intended for 鈥済uests who, due to a developmental disability such as autism or a similar disorder, are unable to wait in a conventional queue for an extended period of time.鈥

However, before the change which took effect on May 20 at Disney World and June 18 at Disneyland the resorts simply said it was intended 鈥渢o assist guests who have difficulty tolerating extended waits in a conventional queue environment due to a disability.鈥

Why did Disney change Disability Access Services?

A braille map of EPCOT gives visually impaired guests a lay of the land, near the park's International Gateway.

Disability Access Services had become the most requested service at Disneyland and Disney World in recent years with a user volume eclipsing the program鈥檚 intended audience and impacting waits and experiences for guests needing the accommodations.

Neither Disneyland nor Disney World has responded to 91影视鈥檚 requests for comment on this story, but when changes were announced in early April, Disney said, 鈥淒isney 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.鈥澛

Disney also increased the number of specially trained cast members to help guests with access needs find the right accommodations.聽

What other accommodations are available?

Accommodations include but are not limited to, American Sign Language interpretation, Disney Handheld Devices that provide captions and visual descriptions for guests with hearing impairment, braille guidebooks and maps, sensory guides for attractions, and at Disneyland, Location Return Times for guests with mobility devices or other physical needs that can鈥檛 be accommodated by older, non-wheelchair accessible attraction queues.

Some guests, like Mangahas, are offered a , allowing them to 鈥渂riefly step out of the standby queue and then rejoin their party鈥 when needed, according to Disneyland鈥檚 website. 鈥淓very attraction has a defined process to support this option based on a person鈥檚 disability while the rest of the party remains in the queue.鈥 Guests are directed to speak to cast members at each attraction to ask for specific details.

No longer qualified

Charisma Mangahas has been visiting Disney parks with her family since long before she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre虂 syndrome.

Mangahas said she was shocked to learn she no longer qualified for Disability Access Services.

She recalled a cast member telling her, 鈥漎ou weren't denied the DAS. You were provided other accommodations, and it's up to you to take it 鈥 If you like, you can purchase the Genie+.鈥

One reason she said she can鈥檛 wait in long lines is because she has that needs to be suctioned when she gets congested.

鈥淕etting suctioned in a conventional line isn't what I would feel comfortable with. It鈥檚 very loud. It's an intrusive process,鈥 she said.

Getting out of line can also be tricky because she uses a wheelchair.聽

鈥淚 don't want to run over people. My wheelchair is kind of bulky. I don't want to hurt anyone, of course. And I don't want to have to go through group after group after group asking them, 鈥楨xcuse me, excuse me, excuse me,'鈥 she added.

Getting dirty looks

Disney World annual pass holder Michelle S. knows how that feels after her kids were offered a return to queue instead of Disability Access Services.

鈥淲hen my daughters got joined up with the rest of us, they felt bad. 鈥楶eople gave us dirty looks, and people were being mean to us, and people said that we were cheating, Mom,鈥欌 she recalled them saying. Her last name is being withheld due to safety concerns.

Michelle explained all four of her adoptive children, ranging in age from 11 to 15, have PTSD from circumstances before joining her family. Additionally, she said her 15-year-old has , which causes her anxiety and panic attacks, and her 11-year-old has , so she can鈥檛 go off on her own if she needs to step away.聽

鈥淚 wish that they could give you like placards, like a little sign you can carry when you're walking past people in line,鈥 Michelle said. She also wished she didn鈥檛 have to explain her kids鈥 needs at every attraction.

鈥淭here's more things that they could do to be accommodating,鈥 she added. 鈥淚f they have imagineers, then imagine something.鈥

Don't stare, but don't ignore:What travelers with disabilities wish fellow travelers would do instead

鈥業t鈥檚 not safe for me鈥

Stacie said she and her husband moved closer to Disney World after her stroke, so "I could have some sort of independence and feel normal."

鈥淚 can enjoy myself in short periods of time with appropriate accommodations,鈥 said fellow Disney World annual pass holder and disabled veteran Stacie Hardy. But 鈥渨hen too many people are around me, it sets off the PTSD, which can and has in the past led to severe anxiety attacks, which can and often do lead to a seizure.鈥

Hardy said she suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in the Navy and post-traumatic stress disorder, then a stroke a few years ago that led to a seizure disorder, and was diagnosed with this spring. She previously qualified for Disability Access Services, but after the policy change, was offered return to queue and .

鈥淣either one of those options work for me, especially because it's not safe for me to be out there (alone),鈥 she said. She usually goes to the parks with her husband. 鈥淲hat if I have an issue when he's not there?鈥

Before, they only went to the parks when her symptoms allowed. Now she鈥檚 not sure she鈥檒l go back at all, even though part of the reason they moved to Central Florida was to be near Disney. 鈥淚 don't know if I ultimately will or not, but (I鈥檓) so upset about the whole thing that it's completely soured Disney,鈥 she said.聽

Setting limits

Disney World annual pass holder and Disneyland Magic Key holder Jamie Solomon said the whole new Disibility Access Services process was incredibly stressful for him.

He said his father had , but after years of neuropsych tests, doctors still haven鈥檛 quite nailed down his own dementia diagnosis. 鈥淭hey told me they can't tell which one it is until I have an autopsy,鈥 he said. One thing he knows is being in crowded lines in enclosed spaces is 鈥渦nbearable鈥 for him.

He said he was lucky to be approved, but he still has an issue with the new Disability Access Services policies only allowing three other guests to share the service user鈥檚 benefits when visiting the parks together. The only exception is for immediate family.

鈥淚 don't have a traditional family,鈥 Solomon said, noting that his parents have passed away and he鈥檚 not in touch with his sister. Instead, he has a 鈥渇amily of choice.鈥

鈥淎 family is a family,鈥 he said. 鈥淚鈥檇 still like to be able to come with my full-sized family.鈥

Jamie Solomon holds up a photo of his family of choice on one of their Disney trips together.

Calls for change

A by a group called DAS Defenders is calling on Disney to adjust its policies.

鈥淚t is imperative that Disney recognizes the broad-reaching impact of its decisions and takes immediate steps to rectify this injustice,鈥 the petition reads.

Mangahas said she wasn鈥檛 aware of the petition when she made her now-viral video, but having previously given a , she鈥檚 open to compromise.

鈥淚f (Disney) cannot commit to a big change, at least we can work together so that more people who were denied DAS, who need the DAS system, can qualify and receive the service,鈥 she said. Until then, 鈥淚'm going to make do with what was given.鈥

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