Disneyland's guest assistance policy of providing aide to those who require assistance on and off rides will change next month due to abuse of the program. Castmembers of the theme park will start training Tuesday for a new reservation type of system for those deemed disabled. With the new policy, approved guests will avoid waiting in line by being issued a time to return to an attraction. Vikki Vargas reports from Anaheim for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 23, 2013.
People with disabilities will no longer go straight to the front of lines at Disneyland and Walt Disney World under a policy change park officials say is a response to growing abuse of the system.
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Under the change, visitors with special needs will be issued tickets with a return time and a shorter wait similar to the FastPass system that's offered to everyone.
The current approach to accommodating disabled park-goers "certainly has been problematic, and we wanted to curb some of the abuse of this system," Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown told the Orange County Register.
"We have an unwavering commitment to making our parks accessible to all guests," Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown said in a statement. "Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing accommodations for guests with disabilities."
The change takes effect Oct. 9 for guests with park-issued disability cards. Disney officials said more details will be released after park employees are briefed on the new rules.
Currently, visitors unable to wait in the regular line can get backdoor access to rides or go through the exit and wait in a shorter line.
Anne Hardstaff has a card because of her arthritic knee condition. She will need to use the new time reservation card, starting next month.
"I can't stand for a long time," said Hardstaff, of Australia, who visited the Anaheim, Calif. park Monday. "You can imagine the line. You wait 20, 30 minutes -- I can' do it."
Brown compared the change to making a reservation and boarding at the appointed time.
The move was in part a response to the phenomenon of disabled "tour guides" who charge money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, to accompany able-bodied guests and allow them to avoid long lines.
The park said others who don't have a disability have been able to get an assistance card since no proof of disability is required.
Some families of children with epilepsy and autism criticized the change, saying their kids' disabilities make it too hard for them to wait in standard lines.
Rebecca Goddard takes her sons, age 4 and 6, to Disneyland once a week. Her sons have autism and can't stand in lines longer than a few minutes before they start pushing other people.
"My boys don't have the cognition to understand why it's going to be a long wait," Goddard told the Register. "There are so few things for my boys that bring them utter joy and happiness - to mess with it just makes me sad."
The advocacy group, Autism Speaks, consulted with Disney officials on the change and urged parents to see how it unfolds. Brown called the program "in line with the rest of our industry."
"Change is difficult," said Matt Asner, executive director of the Southern California chapter. "I didn't want it to change, but I understand there was an issue that needed to be dealt with."
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