Disabled / Handicap Walt Disney World guidemaps
Guidemaps and guidebooks with extra information for handicap and disabled guests at Walt Disney World.
It's no secret that the Walt Disney World theme parks and attractions are very accommodating for disabled and special needs park guests. That's one of the positive aspects that has made the theme parks and company so well liked by the media, charitable organizations, and the general public.
In the 1980's and early 90's, those people in wheelchairs were viewed in envy and jealousy by many of the regular guests. It was common for the disabled person and their entire family (however large it may have been) to have direct access to all of the rides (they usually entered through the exit), and to have special priority seating for the different shows and parades. While everybody else was waiting 30+ minutes in the line queue, the disabled person and their family would normally zip past them through the ride's exit, and then quickly board the ride.
Of course, not everybody who was in a wheelchair actually needed it. As word spread about the "line cutting" privilege of wheelchair visitors, dishonest people began renting the Disney wheelchairs and using it to cut through all of the lines. Some people would even swap out the "disabled" family member just for the fun of it. It was very common to then see the "disabled" person easily hop out of the wheelchair and climb into the ride vehicle with no problems whatsoever. Everybody knew of the abuse, but nobody was allowed to challenge the "disabled" person or do anything about it.
The early part of 2000 saw the evolution of Disney's FastPass system. Now instead of allowing for the people in wheelchairs to have direct access through the exit, many of the attractions required the wheelchair guests to use the FastPass line, which meant that they needed to wait their turn with a FastPass ticket. When FastPass was added to attractions, many of the stand-by (a.k.a regular) line queues were widened to allow access for the wheelchairs. This meant that people in wheelchairs would now have to wait in the regular line queue with everybody else if they didn't have a FastPass ticket.
Of course, this didn't apply for all attractions. Some of the rides (such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Snow White's Scary Adventures and Splash Mountain) had line queues that had stairs or too tight of turns, so the wheelchair guests were still taken into the ride through the exit. The same is true with Spaceship Earth over in Epcot. However, these alternate line queues are strictly monitored by the cast members, and it still may be a bit of a wait before the wheelchair guests are taken to the rides' loading stations.
There was still a secret though for disabled guests to have immediate access to rides, even without a FastPass ticket.
Sometime in the later part of 2000, Disney had a system where disabled guests could show a special card and have their family be given immediate access to the rides. All you had to do was go to guest services in any of the theme parks and request for an alternate access card. The cast member would then place your name, the size of your group, and the dates of your visit on the card. Depending on how you state your medical condition, the worker would then stamp your card with one of two markings: one stamp was useless (as a way to throw off the dishonest people) and had you go through the stand-by line, while the other stamp would grant you immediate access to the FastPass / handicap line queue, even if you didn't have a wheelchair.
As you can guess, once word of this new line-skipping system spread, so did the abuse of it. It quickly became common to see regular people using the handicap alternate access cards for the sole purpose of skipping the line queue. The abusers knew exactly what they were doing, but they simply didn't care.
In fact, the abuse of this newer system was so bad that local residents were making money off it. The local resident would either go to guest services and get your family the alternate access card, or the local would join your group as the "disabled" person and help you skip the lines. All of this was for a fee, of course.
Because of the widespread abuse, the handicap alternate access cards are no longer in use by Disney. As far as I'm aware, there is no line-skipping system for disabled visitors at Walt Disney World.