I learned last week that Disney will be ending their Guest Assistance Card program. This program allowed those with special needs a quicker and easier way to experience the rides at Disneyland and Disney World. It made visiting Disneyland a truly magical place like no other. But the program is ending and will be replaced with something similar to the regular fast pass where guests will be required to sign up for rides and return after a specified time. To read more about it and some of the issues that might arise, please read this article.
Hearing this news made me angry, sad, and all kinds of other emotions. But mostly I'm just heartbroken.
I can't say that I'm surprised by the ending of the Guest Assistance Card program. And here's why:
When we visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California back in July, we had an amazing time. Our son uses a wheelchair and finding things that he can truly experience is, well...an experience. But Disneyland delivered. All of the cast and characters were phenomenal. The rides were accommodating and the wait times were nil for us because we were able to access the handicap entry. Rides were also adapted for us so the whole family could ride at the same time. The whole visit was so above and beyond, I ignored some of what I saw taking place.
It was nagging at me. But I squashed the nagging feeling in an effort to let the good rise and the bad go unacknowledged.
As our day at Disneyland progressed, more and more people flooded the park. Along with that came more and more wheelchairs. At one point I just watched wheelchair after wheelchair moving by. Some pushed by others, some were pushed along by the sitting person's feet. Was it disability day at Disneyland? No. These wheelchairs are rented out by Disneyland as a courtesy at the entrance. You just pay a fee and you get to use one for the day, no matter your ailment.
And then there were the handicap accessible lines. They were filling up, too. I personally witnessed a gentleman in what looked to be his eighties enter a ride with fourteen grandchildren on his Guest Assistance pass. Fourteen able bodied grandchildren.
I saw all kinds of people in the handicap entrance lines. Most of which seemed to have nothing wrong with them. Or groups of people accompanying the one person who may have had a pace maker, fatigue, or even so much as a sneeze.
Now before you get all How do you know there is no disability?! You can't see everyone's disability! How dare you?! Hold on.
I'm not playing the My Son's Disability is Better Than Your Disability game. And maybe a percentage of those "handicapped" patrons are totally legitimate. And invisible. But legitimate, nonetheless. I'm willing to bet cold, hard cash that a majority of them were not so disabled. But were rather acting that way or borrowing the pass of someone who is disabled so they didn't have to wait in the long lines at Disneyland.
My patience was broken when we exited the Jungle Cruise ride. We had a lovely time, we really did. Christian sat up tall in his wheelchair in the adapted boat with a seat just for him. The handicap accessible line is usually at the exit of every ride for faster loading. So when we exited we could see the completely packed handicap accessible line. Filled with seemingly able bodied people waiting for faster loading. Not a wheelchair in the line. No crutches. No braces.
And they were all staring at us. Staring at my five year old, nonverbal, brain injured son in his wheelchair. All of them. From the handicap line! How ironic is that? At that point in the day, after seeing so much blatant disability fraud I lost my patience. As we passed I yelled, "Take a good look, guys! This is what real disability looks like!"
I'm not sure they got it. You know, they had a ride to catch.
I, like most people, heard the story of New York socialites paying people with Downs Syndrome to escort them as tour guides so they'd get the Guest Assistance pass. While this is vile and disgusting, I wonder why these socialites didn't just rent a wheelchair and pretend they were disabled. Seems to be what's popular and easier from what I saw.
I'm not blaming Disney. What were they supposed to do? They could ask for more proof of disability before issuing passes but I'm almost positive there is something about that idea that's illegal or an open door for lawsuits. In fact, Disney isn't legally obligated to offer that much accommodation at all. They do it because they are a good company. They wanted to be inclusive. They wanted all children to be able to experience the magic. They relied on the honesty and goodness of patrons to be telling the truth about needing a wheelchair. About using those passes. About needing those passes.
Sorry Disney, people are jerks.
Now to address the jerks.
This is not about entitlement. This is not about us getting on rides quicker than anyone else. You're right, we are not owed anything. But don't you see? Don't you see?! I would trade places with you in a heartbeat. I would GLADLY stand in the hot sun for three hours with my son standing next to me and complaining, no, articulating how miserable he was with real, live words. You can have my pass. Take it! Get on that ride faster, by all means.
Don't you understand?! This is not a perk. This is not a fast pass. This is not us getting over on you.
You know what this is? This pass means my son smiling for the very first time on a ride. This pass means that he gets a break from struggling every day. He gets to be included. He gets to be like the rest of the kids. We get to be like the rest of the families. We don't feel broken. We don't feel tired. We just get to be happy that day. Don't you see that?
I'm talking to you. You, the one who used your grandpa's pass. You, the one that faked a hurt ankle. You, the one who really didn't need it. You, the one who hired someone with a disability. You, the one who pretended the pass was yours. You, the one who just ruined it for all of us.
And do you know what you're teaching your children when you're abusing these "privileges?" You're teaching them to be jerks just like you.
Cross posted on Christian's Journey.
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