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How Disney's New Park Reservation Systems Negatively Impact Neurodivergent Guests

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My family was fortunate enough to go to Walt Disney World (WDW) multiple times throughout my childhood, and when I was old enough to drive myself, that’s exactly what I did. Going to the parks and enjoying myself used to be easy and accessible, but lately due to changes implemented from the company it no longer feels that way. In fact, now it’s just inaccessible, confusing, and more expensive than ever to “come home,” or whatever phrase they use to make you feel good about stepping through those gates.

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For those who don’t know, once upon a time, as long as the parks weren’t at capacity you used to be able to get in. However in an effort to ensure the safety of both cast members (CMs) and guests alike, post lock down (which for Floridians was May 2020), they adopted a new park reservation system to control park population. 

Essentially, you would have to use their app to reserve a date to go to the parks, something that never existed before. Fair, right? You don’t have to like it for it to make sense, but the changes didn’t stop there. 

I have ADHD and I can’t even fathom starting to look at how the reservation system will work for me.

As Disney opened up the park gates to more people, the park reservation system stayed and they added other key components that made it less accessible for people to go to the parks. They introduced new features such as the Genie+ FastPass system and individual Lightning Lanes, which replaced their prior FastPass system that they had for years that were based on a first come first serve basis. 

I asked theme park blogger, influencer, and my personal coffee date friend Franky Jr. about this system (because my brain “noped out” as soon as it was announced) and here’s what he had to say:

“Genie+ is the package paid FastPass system where you pay $15 for the day, but you can only pick one ride at a time, but since it’s a live system you may not get the times that you need. And upon availability/the times for the attractions you may select may change without you knowing.” 

After I texted him back saying “That’s ass,” I asked him if it impacts guest morale. He then said, “1000%. I see it when they check in; how much stress guests are under, especially with their families.”

In addition to this, Disney changed their Disability Access Pass (DAS Pass), a pass designed to help disabled families access their parks. According to the official parks website:

“Disability Access Service (DAS) is designed to accommodate Guests who have difficulty tolerating extended waits in a conventional queue environment due to a disability (including non-apparent disabilities). The service allows Guests to schedule a return time that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction. It does not provide immediate attraction access.

Once a return time is issued, Guests are free to enjoy other theme park offerings while they wait virtually for the return time to arrive, as opposed to waiting in the queue. As soon as the Guest redeems a return time, they can book another return time for the same or a different attraction.” (Source: Walt Disney World official website)

While this sounds amazing and true to Disney’s fifth “Inclusion” key, it’s not as simple as it seems for people to use it. After some more conversation, Franky explained to me some of the complications that come with accessing the DAS Pass and with the technology itself:

“You can see so many negative comments on various social media platforms, how so much more difficult it is for guests who aren’t able to utilize the app because it keeps glitching/breaking down. Older guests who have older cell phones really lose out [on] the opportunity to get Lightning Lane passes due to it only [being] available [through] the app and not accessible through the website.”

And in regards to the actual DAS pass…

“…[The] main difference is that you can get the DAS Pass put on your account prior to arriving to Disney —  [the] problem is that it can take a long time to get a hold of the DAS pass team to get a video call/call with them to determine if you are eligible for the DAS Pass. Once you’ve been processed, you can pick up to a select number of attractions for your trip versus getting the ride return times [the] day of. Now, if you aren’t successful in reaching Disney prior to arrival, you can still get the DAS Pass once you get into your initial park, and they can load it up on your tickets for the length of your stay. From there it’s like how DAS Pass used to be.”

Disney is trying to create an inclusive experience for all guests, but when you have processes like this, in addition to all the different ways you would have to pay to play to enjoy the parks, it can become a neurodivergent nightmare. The company is trying to be more accessible, however they’re doing it in inaccessible ways by basing everything on technology that glitches constantly or basing everything through getting in touch with an apparently hard to reach team. This is the typical situation where it feels like a team of seemingly neurotypical individuals are creating systems for neurodivergent people, which never goes well.

Most of the issues with the new theme park systems that Disney has introduced are hard on people due to the technology errors, but my concern is how the lack of accessibility is impacting neurodivergent guests and families. While I can’t speak for anyone, I am ND, living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I remember how easy it used to be to have my AP, get a FastPass (or three) and continue on my day. Now, there’s a paywall and all these extra steps that even writing this story, I still struggle to completely comprehend. I’m a local, so I don’t have to worry as much about getting on my favorite attraction because I can come back and do it another day. For disabled and neurodivergent families who have saved money their entire lives to come to the parks, their reality is very different and dismaying.

ADHD is a disorder that impacts cognitive processing, organization, and at times functioning. Oftentimes people with ADHD will report that the minute something seems too complicated, stressful, or convoluted, their brain “nopes out” before they have a chance to really grasp what they’re looking at, which is proven in an anonymous quote from a current Disney CM:

“…I’m literally here working, and have the opportunity to go and enjoy the parks since I have my blue ID. I have ADHD and I can’t even fathom starting to look at how the reservation system will work for me. Not counting understanding the Lightning Lanes and Genie+ at the moment. I just want to enter the park, wait my nice wait times, ride and finish, but it’s so mind numbing that I choose to completely delete trying it from my mind rather than be overwhelmed.”

According to Insider, Disney World is middle class America’s most sought after vacation spot, however these new changes are both financially unsustainable and, quite frankly, unintentionally ableist. (Source: Insider news story)

If the Walt Disney corporation truly wants to honor its fifth key, they need to rescind some of their newer policies and create simpler practices to access their parks. It wasn’t always like this, and it doesn’t have to be moving forward if the company wants to be the diversity and inclusivity champions that they claim to be. 

There’s nothing magical about this new system, Disney. This park system was created for everyone, so please let it be accessible to everyone.

Lead image courtesy of contributor

Originally published: May 23, 2022
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