Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My thoughts on the disabled tour guide scandal and guest assistance pass abuse.



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...

13 comments:

Dandy said...

Sadly this is not surprising but it is ridiculous and completely wrong.

flutiefan said...

i fully agree with you, Lisa.

(btw, the link to your previous article on guest passes isn't working. it directs to a Merida article from last week.)

flutiefan said...

i fully agree with you, Lisa.


(btw the link you posted to the past guest relations blog isn't working. it directs to last week's Merida post.)

Lisa Robertson said...

Thanks, Heather! I just changed it. :)

Jo Ashline said...

Well done Lisa. Thank you.

Beth Green said...

LIsa, you nailed it! I couldn't have said it better. You have my 100% support and anyone who doesn't support this probably shouldn't be at WDW or DL! Thanks!!

KimPossible said...

Nice article, that was a soap box all plaid have stepped upon. The only thing I'd add is that it really should be stressed that this is NOT an economic class issue. I have seen people from all financial levels abuse the special assistance pass or GAC or what ever it is called now.

Lisa Robertson said...

You are absolutely right, @KimPossible. The article that recently came out talked about wealthy Manhattan families booking disabled tour guides to get the passes, but the abuse really does happen across the board at a variety of different socioeconomic levels, with kids/no kids, etc. It is incredibly frustrating and sad.

Michaelyn said...

I completely agree. The system is abused on a regular basis and something has to be done. My hope is that they don't do away with the renting of wheel chairs at the parks. In my many trips to the park, I have rented a wheel chair once, and wouldn't have been able to walk the parks the whole day without it due to pregnancy issues. That was the only reason I rented it...to get around the parks. Getting through the lines wasn't the best experience either as there was a lot of discomfort in every step, but I didn't want to get the feeling that I was cheating the system by rolling up to the front of the line and walking onto the ride ahead of everyone else. My point is simply to say that while I hope that Disney does nip this situation in the bud, I also hope that they don't get so rigid with their policies that it makes it impossible for some people with what may be considered "lesser injuries" to visit the parks with their families.

Rigo said...

This is absolutely on the money! About a month ago while we were speaking to a CM about hosting a birthday party at DL or DCA there were two teenage girls that looked to be about 16-18 years old requesting a GAC. I couldn't help but try to hear why they needed one considering they looked very able to wait in line. Once girl stated that she she can't be in confined spaces for more than a few minutes (I guess due to claustrophobia). The CM asked how many guests she had with her, and conveniently she had 5. I could tell the CM had doubts, but she had to provide the GAC anyway.

It's sad that people abuse the system like this, and the recent story about pay for play is just sickening. Anyway, great blog, and certainly a great post that everyone should read!

Anonymous said...

I remember - over 40 years ago .. we were standing in line for the Matterhorn - with my 7ish year old disabled brother ..he could still walk at that time and had no problem waiting in line with the rest of the able bodied family.. we got up to the front and were actually chided because we should have gone to the exit with him ... we had no idea there was such a thing.. and actually we didn't use that feature on any rides that day...

It does burn my britches to see people abuse the privileges...

Heather Jaramillo said...

As someone who has children with invisible but legitimate needs for which the GAC was intended, I have always appreciated the Cast Members' dedication to making sure my family has a good visit at Disneyland/DCA.I have gotten the sideways looks because my kids are getting accommodations others do not but seem to be fine. I am aware it is the use of the GAC that enables this, because there would be days I would not want to bother obtaining one or would feel guilty doing so because the kids seemed fine. Then I would watch as the day quickly turned into a disaster.

I have also been to other local amusement parks that do not have any accomdations beyond those for wheelchair entry. And despite less crowds and noise and shorter lines, things would quickly go south.

So I was always thankful that the Cast Members at Disneyland believed me (or pretended to)even though I would need 3 GAC for my family of 7. Still there were plenty of times those cards stayed stashed away or we let others with a GAC in front of us.

Disney shines in this area, and it makes me sick that it is not just a random family or individual abusing the cards here or there, but people who think that money can buy them out of the rules. I have not been able to afford a trip to DL for a couple years because of the combination of our family size and my husband's reduced wages and it could be a few years more. But for those who come to Disneyland Resort/Disney World and are helped by these passes, I sincerely hope these jerks do not ruin it for them

Tom E said...

My wife has an electric scooter, which normally moves us to the "disabled" line. She can walk without her scooter, but has issues after a few hours; she now uses a cane -- mainly for balance issues.

With the background out of the way, we have found almost all of the rides now have wheelchairs and electric scooters go through the line like non-disabled guests. In fact, many lines are SLOWER for handicapped. An example is the Buzz Lightyear "ride" at MK. After going through the line, you are then moved to another line, where they park your scooter past the exit and you get on ride where others are exiting -- then ride through as other are seated before and after you.

If we were not using the scooter, we would have already been firing lasers ("pew pew!"), but instead we wait an extra 1-2 minutes -- not a big deal, but definitely not "getting away with" anything.

I applaud Disney for eliminating this abuse; I'm sure they saw enough to warrant having to widen all of the lines or re-route things. The only ride I am aware of with any "bonus" for being in a wheelchair is Thunder Mountain. The lines still are narrow (or there are steps), so you enter through the exit -- and then they seat you in the back.