UPDATED: Disney to Autistic (and Other Disabled) Children: ‘Get Back in line’

The Magic Card,

The Magic Card

OUR FAMILY IS GOING TO DISNEY WORLD next week. It’s a trip we weren’t convinced we’d be lucky enough to take, but my sister-in-law and mother-in-law are taking us. As I said, we’re lucky, and sometimes I feel guilty about their generosity. But I believe part of the reason they’re taking us is that we are a family with a special-needs child, and every day is a challenge for my son and the family. Every day. It’s work and sacrifice and patience and making arrangements and meetings with teachers and doctors and running between work and school and … you get the picture. Yes, it’s worth every minute and I wouldn’t change anything, but it’s hard. Disney World has been a genuine vacation: time away together that we all enjoy.

A large part of this is because Disney has been ahead of the curve on helping park guests with disabilities. Their Guest Assistant Card was quite literally a gift to our family, even though we were spending hundreds of dollars at the Disney parks — and in one case a Disney resort hotel. The ability to move directly into the Fast Pass Lane transformed Disney from a severe challenge to wonderful time. Now that’s being taken away, at least until Disney pulls its head out of its ass. Unfortunately hundreds of families will have to pay for a) the behavior of shitty, shitty people who abuse the system and b) Disney’s inability, or unwillingness, to restructure what was a terrific system for people with disabilities.

Because of abuses that have been well-chronicled in recent months, Disney has altered the Guest Assistance Card program and replaced it with, as far as I can tell, an invitation to use its Fast Pass service.

I made the mistake of reading a number of related articles and the reader comments — a special window into humanity’s gall bladder — and have been absolutely astonished by the number of people who believe disabled Disney patrons were getting special treatment they didn’t deserve. Some idiot on the Toronto Star site went so far as to ask why the disabled want things presented to them on a silver platter. As I said, astonishing.

For children and adults with disabilities — and their caregivers — every day is a challenge. EVERY. GODDAMNED. DAY. It’s just different. Disney’s generous disabled policy was a progressive, wise and beautiful thing. As I said, a gift. For a day or two or three of the year, families who fight every day to be whole were given the wide berth they deserve, whether their loved ones have physical or neural challenges, or both. Disney got it right.

Now they’re throwing it away because, well, let’s face it, because of assholes. They are making the astounding decision to punish disabled people for the untoward behavior of others.

Apparently Disney didn’t require “proof” of a disability, which is news to me because we brought in my son’s IEP and other paperwork before getting the pass. But there have been widespread anecdotal reports of people walking in with a limp, or having an ambulatory grandparent pushed in via wheelchair, to get the special access. Worse, the New York Post reported about Manhattan elite paying a disabled “concierge” to be their beard so that they could avoid the normal lines (see: http://nypost.com/2013/05/14/rich-manhattan-moms-hire-handicapped-tour-guides-so-kids-can-cut-lines-at-disney-world/ ). Worse still, there are stories of people getting the passes, perhaps legitimately, and selling them.

When I read these things, I wish I believed in hell.

We went to Disney with and without the Guest Services Card. The last time we were without one, my son melted down in the first line we got into — at the Haunted Mansion in Anaheim — and he and my wife had to be led out by (very understanding and helpful) cast members. That was how we started our Disney experience. The passes completely changed everything, allowing my son to go on rides without standing in long lines, without having to plan his day — the way we plan every other day of our lives.

From what I can glean, disabled patrons still will be given a Guest Assistance Card, but the card will be good for Fast Pass access to rides at certain times. Rather than walk into the Fast Pass Lane when, say, walking from Splash Mountain to Thunder Mountain Railroad, disabled guests will have to be there at a certain time. And only one of these passes will be good at a time. The last I checked, this is virtually identical to the regular Fast Pass, which allows patrons to use one per hour.

I’m hoping this is a public ruse to discourage the succubi from being brazen enough to show up and lie, and that we’ll arrive next week and show our documentation and the Disney folks will say to us and other families of the disabled, ‘You’re good; we just had to weed out the shitbags.” Because these rules certainly won’t work for most on the autism spectrum, and I can’t imagine them being convenient for those with, say, cerebral palsy or fibromyalgia or Down Syndrome or epilepsy — whatever. And it SHOULD be convenient, or as convenient as a place like Disney can be, because nothing else in their lives is.

In an explanation of  the new card on Disney’s Web site, there is some hope: “With that said, we have long recognized and accommodated people with different needs. Guests can visit Guest Relations to discuss their individual situation, and we will continue to provide assistance that is responsive to their unique circumstances.”

The argument about who is able to stand in line and who isn’t, and whether the disabled rules are fair to typical patrons, is irrelevant. So is Disney’s assertion that the new rules are in line with those of other theme parks. Since when does Disney settle for THAT argument? Disney got the disabled situation right because it was treating struggling families to a rare privilege, the chance to be happy, to feel a little normal, at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Yes, we still had some meltdowns and rough patches and a large crowd is a large crowd and it’s tough. But Disney was trying to make it easier — and it was. It was much, much easier. All the families who made plans believing these passes would be available are being cheated, plain and simple. By those who abused the system and by Disney, which has failed to fix a problem that doesn’t appear that difficult to solve. Maybe it’s really about money.

I sure hope not.


Here is a link to two SoCal NBC reports on Disney’s decision, including a good investigative piece that catches two cardholders pimping their privilege. Sadly, they are unashamed. Today is the first day of the new policy; I’m anxious to hear reports.


2 thoughts on “UPDATED: Disney to Autistic (and Other Disabled) Children: ‘Get Back in line’

  1. I don’t even dream of Disney World anymore. Both kids overreact in crowded locations, get into meltdowns (due to sensory overload), plus the travel hassle is something I still don’t know how to handle. You go ahead and have a great time! Despite the challenge of having to stand in the line now. And Disney, wake up, people!

  2. Pingback: Disney to become less magical and happy for families with disabled individuals | Justin Colman

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