How accommodating is Disney? Well, how accommodating do you need them to be? When most people think of guests needing accommodations at Disney, they think of people with obvious physical disabilities. However, what about those guests with the not-so-obvious disabilities, the Hidden Needs?
What qualifies as a “Hidden Need”?
Special dietary needs can be considered Hidden Needs. If you can’t eat anything with nuts or dairy, then your meal needs to have some special care taken with its preparation. Disney chefs are amazing at making sure that you still get to experience some truly fantastic culinary delights.
Physical ailments such as a Multiple Sclerosis, bad knees, back problems, and broken toes (among other things) are all “Hidden Needs” as well. How often do you hear someone complain about not being able to walk very far because their knees are bothering them? Or what about that mom that needs to sit down every half hour or so to rest their back? While these guests do not look like they need accommodations, they often do need some accommodations to fully enjoy their Disney vacation.
Another group of guests with Hidden Needs is the group with mental health issues. Guests that live with issues such as social anxiety, depression, autism, and other mental health issues often need some kind of accommodation to help them get the most enjoyment out of their Disney vacation.
What kind of accommodations are available for Hidden Needs?
For those with special dietary needs, the chefs at the various Disney restaurants are able to make custom dishes. If a guest is not able to eat nuts, the chefs will not only prepare the guest’s meal away from any surfaces that may be “contaminated” with nuts or nut products, but they will also specially prepare the meal without nuts even if it is normally prepared with nuts.
For other Hidden Needs, guests can visit Guest Services at any park and request a Guest Assistance Card (GAC). The guest needs to explain to the Cast Member what kind of accommodation would allow him/her to truly enjoy all that Disney has to offer. For instance, if a guest with social phobia needs a quieter and less crowded place to wait for a ride vehicle then this is exactly what the Cast Member at Guest Services needs to know. This information allows the Cast Member to determine the best accommodation available to the guest. In this case, it may be that the guest would be allowed to use an alternate entrance that leads to a less crowded waiting area. This does not mean that the guest will be allowed to go straight to the front of the line. A guest with sun sensitivity issues will need to explain that they need to be allowed to wait in an area that is inside a building or at least well shaded.
What information does the Cast Member need to know to issue a Guest Assistance Card?
The Cast Member needs to know what you need to be able to enjoy your vacation. However the Cast Member does not need, nor want, to know what your disability is. You do not need to give any confidential or specific information regarding your disability. You only need to explain how you can best enjoy your vacation.
A Guest Assistance Card will let me get to the front of the line and get right on a ride, right?
No! A GAC will only allow you to wait in an area that is more accommodating for your Hidden Need. In fact, the wait to get a ride vehicle can often be longer when using a GAC. This is because guests that need special ride vehicles, such as wheelchair accessible ride cars, often have longer waits. A guest using a GAC for an attraction may want to take this extra wait into account when deciding if he/she wants to use the GAC accommodation or not for a particular attraction.
My family’s story:
My daughter and my boyfriend both have Hidden Needs. In my daughter’s case, she has a physical disability that is very hard to notice unless you are very familiar with it. She requires the use of a wheelchair when doing a lot of walking (like a full day at a Disney park), but she doesn’t like to stay in her wheelchair all day. On those occasions when she wants to walk for a bit, the GAC allows her to use an alternate entrance and wait in an area that has a little more room for her sit for a bit. My boyfriend, on the other hand, has both special dietary needs and mental health needs. For him, we make sure to note his dietary restrictions when we make our advanced dining reservations. When we arrive at the restaurant, the chef always comes out to talk to him about his dining needs. When we go to the first park of our visit, we stop in at the Guest services window. We make sure to tell the Cast member that he needs a quieter place away from large crowds to wait for our turn to ride. With a simple stamp that allows them both to use an alternate entrance, they can both wait for the rides without suffering from their Hidden Needs, and we can all enjoy our family Disney vacation.