I'm not really sure where to begin with this post, so I'm warning you now that I am stepping up to my soap box and I'm going to let loose.
While I was in Walt Disney World last week, I received several messages from friends and fans for me to comment on and discuss the news that families of a certain stature feel that it is their right as "the 1%" to see Disney Parks without waiting in line. To accomplish this, they are booking private (non-Disney) guides with disabilities who get guest assistance passes that allow the families to access the attractions using the special queues set aside for guests with disabilities. (To provide a bit of context, we were visiting Walt Disney World with my parents. My mom recently had a hip replacement and hobbled around the parks in pain and never got a guest assistance pass.)
It's no secret that people abuse guest assistance passes; it has been happening for years and these issues date back to when I was in Disneyland's Guest Relations in the 1990s. (I talked about the pain and difficulty in granting guest assistance passes in a post several months ago. Click here to read it. You won't be disappointed.) I haven't written much about the passes on my blog in the past for a reason: I hate to see them abused. Moreover, when it came to writing about the passes for my book, I worked with my friend Cheryl who has a terminally ill child and uses the pass regularly to write about the pass without providing too much information so that it would not be abused. (You can read about Cheryl's family's Disney Parks experiences with the guest assistance pass and special accommodations by clicking here.)
So, without going into too much detail, guests with disabilities who are not using a wheelchair can request a special assistance pass to help make accessing the parks' attractions easier. There are different types of passes depending upon the type of disability and assistance needed. When it comes to guests with wheelchairs, as attraction queues are renovated, the lines are being made wide enough to accommodate the chairs so that guests can wait in line with everyone else. Wheelchairs and even guest assistance passes do not necessarily wait a shorter amount of time for three reasons. First and foremost, because so many people are now accessing the "special" access queues they are now often just as long as the regular queues. (Case in point Peter Pan's Flight.) Second, guest assistance passes are intended to provide the special assistance they need to access an attraction--not expedited boarding. Guests can be asked to wait (in a comfortable waiting area) if it is deemed that they can wait. Third, guests in wheelchairs can often access attractions through the regular lines.
Guest assistance passes, especially those with the greatest levels of clearance, are intended for guests in dire need--guests who cannot and would not be able to visit a Disney Park without them. For anyone out there who has cheated the system or fudged a bit to get a guest assistance pass or is even considering it, I want you to take a good look around you the next time you go to Disneyland. Look at the families around you. I mean really observe them and put yourself in their shoes. Look at the moms, dads and other caregivers bringing severely disabled children and adults to Disneyland. Look at the moms, dads and caregivers struggling with a child with autism who is just trying to make it from one ride to the next without a sensory overload. Look into the eyes of a family on a Make A Wish trip and feel their journey...in your heart...and know that that chronically ill (perhaps even terminally ill) child may be mustering up every once of strength he or she has just to make it through an hour or two so she or he can live out their Disney dream. And then, after you have carefully observed all of these people ask yourself this: Is it fair for ME to make this family--who has struggled or is struggling just to make it one hour to the next while in the effort to enjoy a "normal" day of fun and magic that most of us take for granted--wait longer to get on the attractions? Do I? Can I really feel good about myself knowing that I made that family wait when I was truly able-bodied enough to wait?
I'm sure I will catch flack for this post, but these are my feelings and everyone is entitled to their own. Disney has said they are going to investigate these alleged tour practices and I hope they do. In fact, it is my hopes that they are able to better weed out those who do and don't need them.
I am also sending a message to my plaid brothers and sisters working at the parks letting all of you know that all of us who have worn plaid in the past support you and know how tough your job is when determining proper guest assistance. Keep up the good work and know that while it can be tremendously frustrating when you know a guest is scamming you, there are many other guests whose visits would not be possible without the passes.
Stepping off my soap box... Back to your regularly scheduled pixie dust...