On Monday, Disney announced that they would be changing their theme park policy for guests who have disabilities. The reason for this sudden change came from recent events that occurred last spring from families who thought of quite the clever way to cheat the system. Prior to a Disney vacation, families would hire disabled “tour guides” to accompany them on their trip, which would allow their kids to cut the lines to all of the rides. In other words, people who are fully capable of standing in line waiting to get on a ride were taking complete advantage of Disney’s guest assistance policy.
If there’s one thing that people know for sure about me, it’s that’s I’m a HUGE Disney fan. I’ve visited Walt Disney World twelve times (maybe even more, I’ve lost track), with each visit being better than the last. I mean, where else can you travel to 11 countries in one day and meet your favorite Disney princess? But, before you begin to judge me based on the amount of times I’ve visited the mouse, allow me to explain myself. Being in a wheelchair, traveling hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I’ve been stranded in Chicago at 1am without a handicapped taxi in sight, my wheelchair battery blew a fuse in Portugal leaving me without a way to get around “independently” for 5 of the 12 days I was there, and I can’t tell you how many times some contraption on my chair has broken while I’m away. However, in Disney, I’ve always felt a sense of comfort knowing how accessible the grounds actually are. As soon as I’m off the jet there’s a handicapped accessible bus, the Magical Express to be exact, waiting to take its passengers to their handicapped-friendly Disney resorts. And, at these resorts are fully-accessible buses transporting you to the park of your choice.
Once you enter the park on your first day, receiving a special pass is entirely stress-free. You head over to guest assistance, explain your situation (ie., you’re in a wheelchair or have special medical needs), and the cast member (a fancy term for a Disney worker) hands you a pass that allows up to 6 people to enter the ride from a different entrance. However, with the new rules that will take place on October 9th, disabled guests will basically receive what’s known as a “fast pass”, where they will have to return to a ride at a designated time as indicated on their pass. While I feel as though Disney should definitely take action to prevent those abusing the system, I believe this new plan of action isn’t exactly realistic when considering the different needs of the guests that enter these parks on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve witnessed plenty of people who are clearly in no need of a guest assistance pass, and it irritates me to no end. During my most recent visit, I can remember waiting in line inside of Spaceship Earth with twenty wheelchairs and/or scooters ahead of me. I watched as each person parked their chairs up against the wall, got up on their own, and casually walked onto to the ride without a problem. When it was my turn, I had my brother rushing to pick me up out of my chair and carry me onto the ride, my mother spotting him in case he fell, and my dad pushing my wheelchair off to the side. At that point, I wasn’t really sure how I could make my disability more obvious.
Having that guest assistance pass wasn’t just meant for cutting the lines. In a situation like mine, I tire out easily. I don’t have the stamina of an average person and usually last about 2-3 hours in the park, especially in the Florida heat. I wear a plastic body brace that not only causes me to overheat rather quickly, but also causes me to have severe back and neck pains as the day progresses. And, unlike your typical park goer, I don’t have the energy to continually hop from ride to ride or park to park at a normal pace. That guest assistance pass, however, helped me to get on as many rides as possible without waiting in line, and ultimately saving my energy to see other things. But at the same time, even with that guest assistance pass, I only average about 4-5 rides per day due to my health limitations.
Thousands of people enter Disney each day, and I’m sure many of these people are in similar situations like mine. When thinking about these types of guests and the new Disney policy, it’s hard to see where the fairness lies. Because of certain people abusing what Disney was so accommodating of, people like us now have to suffer. Yes, this new policy will definitely push away the guests who were just looking for a quick and easy way to ride Splash Mountain twice, but it will also push away the people who need this accommodation the most. With its large fan base, Disney has been a reputable empire for years, and one can only hope they will reconsider the changes on this new disability policy.