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By Kristi Letsinger
My children and I have been to Disney World numerous times. For several of our trips, we have used a Guest Assistance Pass (GAC) due to the fact that one of our travel mates has extreme back issues and needs special assistance.
In late fall of last year, my son (age four) was diagnosed with a lethal form of muscular dystrophy and has difficulty walking and climbing. When speaking with our specialist, she mentioned that we would need to get a “special pass” for our son, so she wrote us a letter that mentioned the accommodations that we would need.
Upon our arrival to our first park (Epcot), we stopped at the Guest Relations. I had my letter out and began to speak with the Cast Member at the desk. He asked me a few questions about the letter but never asked for it, and gave me a GAC. He also gave me a red tag for the stroller that allowed me to use the stroller as a wheelchair on rides and attractions that had wheelchair accessibility. This was a simple process and the Cast Member was nice and friendly.
In the past, even with our travel mates GAC, we had to take the children out of the stroller. With my son’s mobility issues, it was a struggle to get him in and out of the lines and rides. People would walk around us in line as he has difficultly walking and tends to move slowly. We have had people push around him and knock him down. This has been a frustrating part of our past Disney experiences.
I found that using the stroller as a wheelchair changed all that. We were able to go anywhere in the stroller that a wheelchair could go. Whereas I have avoided Fantasmic! in the past, this trip I wheeled him in and sat in the special handicap section. We enjoyed the show without worrying how, in the massive crowd, I was going to get him safely out of the theater.
There was one small issue in the use of the tag. On several occasions as we would move to an attraction, many of the Cast Members would tell me that I needed to park my stroller in stroller parking. However, once they saw that red tag they would gladly open up the line for me to take the stroller in. I learned that as I approached a Cast Member at an attraction I would hold up the tag so that they could see it. They would also ask me to see the GAC so that they knew that I was able to take my child through an alternate entrance.
All Cast Members were friendly and helpful in this process. Once or twice the ride had to be slowed down so that we could get on it and they were very willing to do that. No Cast Member ever asked me any questions about my son or about our use of the stroller. Many of them spoke to my son as we entered the ride and smiled as he babbled back.
I found that wearing the GAC in a clear badge holder that showed both sides of the card (I bent the card in half) on a lanyard around my neck helped a great deal. I could walk up to a line, show the pass and the tag, and proceed where the Cast Member asked me to go. By the end of our trip it had become our routine.
The other main issue with using a GAC and the stroller tag was other people at the parks. I remember before I was a parent of a special needs child, that I would wonder why THAT family or THIS family would be allowed the special privilege of taking their stroller in to the attraction or why they were allowed to go through a special way of getting onto a ride. As a parent of a special needs child, I now understand the necessity for these accommodations and I do understand that there are people who don’t understand our situation. And though they were few and far between we did deal with the occasional rude comment or disgusted look. I learned just to smile and direct my son’s attention elsewhere.
The GAC and the stroller tag helped us immensely in our enjoyment of the park. My son was happy and energetic and so was I. We had fewer meltdowns and the overall experience was extremely pleasant for our entire travel group.
Disney provides special accommodations so that families and individuals with special needs can participate just like others. In turn, many families and individuals with special needs make Disney a vacation destination each year with good reason. They are treated with respect and caring from everyone to the custodial staff to the characters to the managers. And though I deeply wish that we did not have to have these accommodations for my son, I appreciate the time and effort that Disney puts into making our trip a special one.