I have learned over the past seven years that each child with spina bifida is different. The physical abilities, the surgeries, the areas affected by nerve damage - no two kids are the same. Anna is able to walk on her own without any assistance but her strength and stamina is lower than that of her sisters and other kids her age, which lead us to obtain a Guest Assistance Card (also called a GAC) during our December 2012 vacation to Disney World. At that time, the GAC was typically known as assistance for those with invisible conditions. We received a tag that allowed us to use her stroller as a wheelchair and an actual paper card that I needed to present to cast members at the entrance to rides. The card allowed a certain number of guests to accompany Anna on the ride through whichever line was set up for wheelchairs.
We were extremely happy with how well Disney's GAC worked for us. Anna could remain in the comfort of her stroller, we didn't have to take turns holding or carrying her and the cast members didn't question us after we obtained the GAC. After that trip, several news stories were published detailing how some Disney guests were hiring "tour guides" in wheelchairs or motorized scooters so that they could "skip lines." As you can imagine, those of us who have children with disabilities were appalled. Shortly after this news broke, Disney announced that they were updating their Guest Assistance policy, but not in response to guests abusing the system. They claimed it was simply time for it to be revamped.
Admittedly, I was nervous that the comfort and ease with which we had sailed through the parks would no longer exist. I tried to stay up to date on rumors and then actual experiences once the new system was rolled out through the disboards but it seemed as if most of the conversations surrounded those with non-physical issues. None were similar to Anna and so I eventually gave up on researching and decided to leave it up to the powers that be.
Our first stop upon entering Magic Kingdom this past trip (September/October 2014) was Guest Relations where I quickly explained Anna's needs to a cast member. (I don't want to detail the exact conversation as I've read that there are websites out there where fakers gather and specify what one should say when one is a faker and doesn't know what to say because one doesn't have to live with a disability day in and day out. Sick, I know.) Our only desire was to be able to use our stroller as a wheelchair. There are certain areas of the parks where strollers are not allowed: lines for rides, some character meet lines and in certain buildings. The cast member was extremely friendly and gave us a tag to attach to the stroller which would allow us to use our stroller as a wheelchair for the duration of our stay at Disney.
I found the new system easier for us to use in that the stroller was considered wheelchair and that was that. I didn't need to hand over a paper card showing that a cast member had given us the tag attached to the stroller. Cast members did not question as to how or why we were using the stroller as a wheelchair. We merely showed them the tag and they would wave us through.
During our trip, Disney wasn't allowing strollers in the line to meet and greet Anna and Elsa, which I found to be a bit unDisney-like. I know why they made that decision - strollers would increase the length of the line and additional work would be required by cast members at the end of the line to move the strollers out of the way. If you look at it through the eyes of a guest, you'd see that this was the most popular, and therefore, the longest, character meet line. Not allowing strollers left parents holding and carrying very young children for long periods of time. Because our stroller was considered a wheelchair, it was allowed in the line, which unfortunately, caused some controversy. Several guests attempted to join the line behind us with their strollers, causing the cast member monitoring the front of the line to politely ask them to remove the stroller from the line and park it in the marked stroller area. "But they have their stroller." The cast member would politely explain that we had a special tag and he had to let us take the stroller in line and if they had needs, they should speak to Guest Relations. A part of me wanted to call out, "She has spina bifida. That's why we have the stroller," each time another guest sent accusatory looks our way.
The only other obstacle we needed to overcome was where to cath Anna. In the past, we had utilized the Baby Care Center and even the baby changing stations in the restrooms but Anna is older now. While she's still small enough to use a baby changing table, she needs more privacy because believe me when I tell you that people can't help but look to see what we're doing. I also need room to spread out my supplies. I had been hesitant to use First Aid as I feared it would be a hot spot of germs just waiting to attach themselves to us.
We didn't really have a choice but to use First Aid this time around and I have to say that our experience was all positive. The nurses were all super nice, the rooms were clean and it appeared that 95% of the visitors to First Aid were in situations similar to ours. It was comforting to Anna to our own private space. The rooms have sinks so I was able to wet paper towels and have her cool off (her meds cause overheating) while I cathed her. You can also store supplies and medication at First Aid for the day if you don't want to carry it around with you. The only inconvenience, and it really is minor, is that there is only one First Aid in each park. Disney has tried to make it as convenient as possible by placing them in a central location. We tried to short-term plan what we were going to do around Anna's cathing schedule so we could be near First Aid when we needed to. That didn't always work out and added some additional time for walking but we were expecting that to happen.
When it came to meeting Anna's needs, we were extremely happy with how Disney was able to accommodate us. And don't forget that First Aid is there to help everyone. They gave us some cool band-aids for Allie's blisters.