Our Disney Disability Access Service (DAS) Experience

Our Disney Disability Access Service (DAS) Experience

When Disney announced the changes that were coming to the Disability Access Service (DAS) on April 9th, my first reaction was worry. We’d been through this before. What would change this time, and what would we need to do? When I reviewed the new eligibility details, the worry turned to relief, followed by guilt. My 23-year-old son Noah is one of the small population of individuals the revised DAS is intended for: individuals with significant developmental and/or cognitive disabilities, particularly autism.

The Bell family in front of EPCOT's Spaceship Earth

Derek and I had our third date at Magic Kingdom in 1999. As our relationship developed, it became clear that we wanted to someday become that family with the Disney passes and all the magical memories. We married and had two beautiful sons. Noah was diagnosed with profound autism at 3 years old. One dream that did not disappear with that diagnosis was becoming a Disney family, and the DAS is what has allowed that to happen for the last 20 years and counting.

Why DAS is vital for my family

Noah is functionally nonverbal, requires constant supervision for personal and medical safety because he also has Type 1 diabetes, and has major sensory issues related to his autism. My husband and I have legal guardianship, and Noah will need care for the whole of his life. We would not be able to have a successful Disney day without the DAS.

A young boy enjoying Disney World

From Noah’s perspective, there are too many people and too many things to process (i.e. animatronics, loud music, bright neon lights). At any moment, he can reach his breaking point, have a meltdown, and need to immediately leave, regardless of who or what is in his way. This is one reason why we are annual passholders. We need to be able to walk away and know that we can try again on a different day.

The DAS helps avoid the meltdowns and the difficult days. There are a lot of misconceptions about what the DAS does and doesn’t do. We don’t skip to the front of the line. We’re given a return time, based on the standby line wait time, to accommodate Noah’s sensory needs. We plan other activities, like shopping, snacks, shows, and visiting every water fountain in the park to keep Noah occupied, moving, and very happy while we wait.

We don’t pick rides we know he won’t be okay with. And we also don’t get in line if we know it will be more than a 30-minute wait, because we know Noah’s limits. I think of DAS as a partnership between Disney and our family, working together to give Noah a magical day.

Read more: Disney Updates Disability Access Service (DAS)

Registering for the DAS pass

Noah’s DAS pass was expiring, so on May 31st we opened the My Disney Experience App, selected Accessibility and Health Services, and then Disability Access Service (DAS). We waited about an hour for our Zoom video meeting. They asked a few questions about his diagnosis and why he needed DAS. They tried to have a conversation with him, looked up our history with DAS through the years, and declined our offer of sending guardianship and medical paperwork. We signed in to the meeting at 7:57 pm and received the approval by 8:06 pm.

There are many individuals who previously qualified for the DAS who no longer do so under this revised policy. I know this will have an impact on their Disney days, and I regret anyone’s loss of magic. In future articles, I will share more accommodations that are generally available in any line as well as other ideas that may make Disney more accessible, until the DAS policy changes again.

Read more about Disney’s DAS requirements:

Mariann Bell
Mariann Bell is the proud mom of two sons, former special education teacher (in both self-contained and inclusion settings), and former accessibility assessment specialist in the alternative assessment field. She hopes to share her 20+ years of personal experience as a parent making the magic of Disney accessible to other families with members with disabilities.