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Featured Special Needs Travel

Disneyland: The Disability Access Card with a Child with Autism

Disney's Disability Access Card Review and Tips

We just got back from the happiest place on earth! The stars magically aligned and I was able to take my youngest, Brady – age 5, to Disneyland for a one-on-one trip with just him and I. Sure, my older boys were a bit green with envy, but considering we’ve been to Walt Disney World 3 times in 3 years and have a trip to Disneyland planned for next July, I think they’ll be just fine. 😉 

This trip, I wanted to test out the new Disability Access Cards. There have been many many articles on how the new system works, how it works (or doesn’t work) for kids with autism and I’ve seen many people claim they will “never visit Disney again!” with the changes. After testing it out for myself? I can assure you we will be back, many times over. 

To read all about the new system you can check out our post – Guest Assistance Card at Disney is Undergoing Changes. What This Means for you.

I also wrote about the ways Disney has affected us, with a child with Autism in this post – What Disney Has Taught Me About Autism

Now for our own story about using the new system. If you had been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World previously and used the Guest Assistance Pass in the past, promptly forget how it used to work and realize that the new changes really are for the better. I’ve seen so many people complaining about how the new system doesn’t work, their kids can’t do repeat rides instantly and how it isn’t autism friendly. We had none of these issues. I found the system to be fair, work seamlessly and, yes, we even had quite a few repeat rides. 

Disney's Disability Access Card Review and Tips

When we first arrived at the parks we went to Disneyland and into City Hall (If your first park of your trip is  California Adventure, you simply go to the Chamber of Commerce). When we got there Brady was already resisting the stroller and a little overwhelmed by the amount of people and the new situation. When it was our turn to talk to the Cast Member she asked what we needed. I explained his issues and situation and she then pulled out the Disability Access Card and began explaining the process to me. 

She then gave us a map and a paper listing where each of the guest service areas are. Basically, if there is a ride we wanted to go on, we visit one of these areas and get a return time for that ride. It acts as a fastpass and we can then walk around the park, eat, go on rides with little to no wait, and return to the requested ride after the time stated on our card. You cannot get a time for another ride until that ride is crossed out. Seems simple enough. 

Now this is where I’ve seen the naysayers say this isn’t kosher. They don’t want to go to a special area to get return times. They want to ride things multiple times in a row, they want it like it used to be. I have to say, again, we had no issues with this new system. I didn’t mind going to the guest services areas, in fact, I preferred it than to go up to the ride to get a return time, only to have my child see the ride and then see us walking away. That would have proven to be a disaster, so the guest service umbrellas were my new favorite places to go! 

As for the multiple rides, unless it’s a ride like Radiator Springs Racers, with wait times of up to 2 hours, we pretty much could repeat ride about anything. In fact, we arrived at Radiator Springs Racers at our designated time (1 hour after the park opened, it was the first ride I got marked on that day) and after the ride was over Brady kept signing more. Since there was no wait in the handicapped area we were in, the Cast Member let Brady go on for another ride. Later in the day when we rode it again, there was a wait and we had to get a return time, but the Cast Members were super helpful distracting Brady enough that it wasn’t as big of a deal. 

For rides like The Little Mermaid at California Adventure, there was often no wait so we were able to stay in our shell and ride it again, and again, and again, and… you get the idea. We ended up riding that one a total of 13 times! It became his calming area. He loved the ride, it was slow, it had starfish that spun around and fireworks at the end. Any time Brady was getting stressed out, we rode that a few times and he calmed back down. 

The entire process, I felt, was great. We were able to do both parks and ride everything Brady wanted to. Areas like Cars Land were already disability friendly so you mostly waited in the same cue as everyone else, making wait times there longer than any other area of both parks, but all in all, it worked fine for us. 

Here are some tips to make your trip successful.

  • Plan ahead! Lot of planning went into our trip. I visited multiple websites with reviews of the process and found this amazing review with maps and lots of great information at Life Rearranged. We planned out which rides we would go on first, which were though to have the longest and shortest wait times and what to do if we needed some down time. I also bookmarked Disney’s own disability information page here
  • Plan for meltdowns. As in any high stress situation, kids feed off of our reactions. I made sure we had our bag packed with a few comforts from home, a favorite car, a light up spinner, some juice and water, his favorite fruit snacks and tucked away a couple of new small toys. Distraction is the key to stopping our meltdowns. 
  • Stroller for younger kids is a must! Not only is it a place for them to rest their tired legs, for Brady, it became his safe haven. We received a loaner of the new Mama’s and Papa’s stroller (review to come!) and it was big and sturdy enough to hold him, as well as had a big canopy he could pull down if he wanted to hide from the world for a little bit. He used the canopy a ton during our two days at the parks. It was brightly colored as well, so it was easy to spot in a crowd of strollers! 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The Cast Members are there to help with whatever you need. Almost every one of them went above and beyond, not just for those with disabilities, but for everyone! When I couldn’t figure out where to go for World of Color, the Cast Member personally walked us down to the right area. Many gave Brady a sticker or high five and seemed genuinely happy to help. 
  • For food allergies, ask to speak with a chef. Brady is Gluten/Dairy and soy free. While soy is the least of our concerns, the Gluten and Dairy Free options were a must. We were able to find Gluten Free Mickey Waffles at the Plaza Inn (and even got visits from the characters!) and found food options at many other places in the parks. If that particular restaurant or food area didn’t have something Brady could eat, they at least gave me the name of a place that would have something for him. 

I’m sure I’ll be posting more info and tips as I wind down from our trip. The biggest takeaway for me was that for all the people out there that are disgruntled about the new policy changes, go experience it for yourself before getting hot under the collar. Also, when you do go, don’t try to compare it to how it was in years past. The new system worked great for us, and while there was a little additional planning involved, it was well worth it for such an amazing trip with my son. 

Disneyland California Adventure


disclosure: We received complimentary park admission tickets as members of the media to conduct this review. No other perks were given and no monetary compensation was made. This is our honest account of what we experienced in the parks.