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Disney's access policy risks 'Happiest Place on Earth' moniker

New York is still enjoying mild temperatures, but the days are getting shorter, and that means that winter is coming. We will get used to the cold and the sloppy streets again -- we are New Yorkers, after all -- but we will also start to dream of warm-weather vacations that do not involve boots and hats and mittens for everyone in the family.

Some of us will cast a sidelong glance at the Happiest Places on Earth and, eventually, plan a trip to Disneyland or Disney World for that needed winter getaway. If we are traveling with someone who has a disability, though, we should be aware that the two parks have introduced a new access policy.

Prompted to amend their old policy by widespread and growing abuses, Disney introduced its Disability Access Service Card last week. The card replaces the Guest Assistance Card and significantly modifies the process for people with special needs to take advantage of the parks' various attractions.

In the past, any party with a person who was unable to wait in line could jump to the front of the line for every park attraction. On busy days, 90-minute waits could be swapped for immediate access.

The Disability Access Service Card does not reinstate the 90-minute line for guests with disabilities and their parties, but it does not guarantee immediate access, either. A guest with a card will be given a return time for each ride or show; the guest and his or her party can then return at or after that time and move immediately to the front of the line. It's like making a reservation for the attraction, but the card limits the benefit to one attraction at a time.

The card itself has a photo of the person with the disability. The company does not require proof of a disability, like a doctor's note. The person with the card, however, must be with the party when they take advantage of the return time.

More than 34,000 people signed a petition protesting the new policy as soon as the plan was announced. The petition asks the company to reconsider, because the policy is unreasonable for some people with special needs.

The company responded that the parks are happy to work with individual customers to make any special accommodations. The Happiest Places on Earth are committed, a Disney official said, to "providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all our guests."

Source: Disability Scoop, "Despite Pushback, Disney Firms Up New Disability Access Policy," Michelle Diament, Oct. 7, 2013

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