Petition statement to be delivered to Disney Parks & Resorts

Disney Parks & Resorts: Please reconsider your recently announced policy revisions regarding ride access for guests with special needs.

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Disney Parks & Resorts: Please reconsider your recently announced policy revisions regarding ride access for guests with special needs.

To be delivered to Disney Parks & Resorts

Petition Statement

Reconsider your recently announced policy revisions regarding ride access for guests with special needs in response to the recent reports of abuse by people with more money than morals. The replacement of the Guest Assistance Card with the Disabled Assistance System makes it more difficult for families of children with special needs to experience the joy and wonder of a trip to Walt Disney World and doesn't fix the problem.
There are currently 170 signatures. NEW goal - We need 200 signatures!

Petition Background

Imagine that you were in charge of designing your city’s parking for people with disabilities permit program. You’re doing this because you care about the plight of physically or mentally handicapped people and empathize with the challenges they face each and every day of their lives: you’re proud to do something that will make their lives just a little bit easier.

In the interest of streamlining the experience – and because you have faith in the honesty and integrity of people – you decide not to require permit applicants to furnish actual proof that they have a disability let alone one that would actually benefit from a shorter distance to a destination: you trust that applicants need the wheelchair they’re sitting in or truly are on the Autism Spectrum.

You’re not naïve enough to think that there won’t be less scrupulous people who take advantage of your kindness and generosity, but at the same time you recognize that the bad apples make up only a small percentage of all the applicants and what you’re doing helps makes the lives of so many people better even if just a little bit.

Now imagine that a news outlet catches wind of a particular set of scammers who not only gloat about how they gamed the system but also do it with a distasteful amount of pride. Naturally readers are upset at the reckless abandon with which these jerks cheated their way to a parking permit. Beyond the need to handle the public relations issue, you want to find a way to discourage people from abusing these privileges.

So how do you go about doing this? One way would be to strip away the benefits: if there isn’t much of an advantage to have the permit, then it won’t be worth the scammers’ while to go through all the subterfuge to obtain one. The flip side of this approach is that the exponentially larger population of people for whom this permit makes a real difference is also affected, and they’re the people you were trying to help in the first place.

The more logical strategy is to be more ardent in vetting the people who are applying for the permit. It’s not beyond the realm of reason to request that people who want to participate in the program make a tiny amount of effort to provide documentation of their very real need for such accommodations.

Disney Parks & Resorts recently announced that, in response to the justified criticism and outrage from their loyal fans who read a New York Post report earlier in the year that “wealthy Manhattan moms” hired a disabled guide from Dream Tours Florida at a rate of $130 per hour in order to be able to use Walt Disney World’s Guest Assistance Card to bypass the lines for attractions, they would cancel the GAC program effective October 9 in favor of a new Disabled Assistance System that will work much like the current Fastpass program that all park guests are entitled to use.

This is the same approach used in the first option from my hypothetical scenario. Disney is stripping away the benefits of the program so that those with more money than morals have no incentive to pay a handicapped person to pretend to be their friend and those who have no qualms about renting a wheelchair to appear to be physically challenged gain no time saving advantages in exchange for having to sit in that chair all day long.

At first glance, this seems like a great solution to resolve the issue at hand. Indeed, many people who have endured the often excruciatingly long lines at Walt Disney World and Disneyland applauded this as a fair compromise that levels the playing field as it were for non-handicapped people. “Why should people who are disabled get to experience more attractions than the rest of us?” they ask. “Everyone should get to go on the same number of rides!” they declare.

The thing is that the Guest Assistance Card is not – and has never been – about allowing those who are physically or mentally disabled to cram a vacation’s worth of fun into a single day at a Disney park. The reason that many of these guests need the program in the first place is because they are unable to move as fast as, stand for as long a time as or tolerate as much waiting in line as a typical person. While a more able bodied guest could probably enjoy the park for a good eight or nine hours – if not from opening to closing – a person who needs the GAC program likely is not going to have the stamina or capacity to do that: very often the time savings is key to being able to experience as much as a person who isn’t handicapped.

My son Alexander is a 6-year-old boy on the Autism Spectrum. He has a condition known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which in his case includes a severe cognitive impairment that almost guarantees that beyond never being able to learn things as effectively as most other children Alexander will assuredly never be able to understand why he cannot get on the giant plastic representation of his favorite flying elephant right away, why he has to return in an hour when said elephant is right there in front of him, what an hour even is, and why when he does return he still needs to wait in line some more. Furthermore, his coping mechanism for sensory overload of sights and sounds (in this case not just from the park itself but from other guests as well) is very often an exasperated meltdown that involves some combination of screaming, kicking, running, rolling on the floor, and lashing out, but don’t mistake this for the actions of a spoiled child.

With the Disabled Assistance System, we likely would only be able to enjoy a small handful of rides and shows at Walt Disney World in a day. Alexander doesn’t have the endurance to be able to last a full day in that sort of environment, and we unfortunately wouldn’t have the option to stand in other lines to enjoy additional attractions while waiting for a reserved time slot like people who can utilize the Fastpass system do. The playing field certainly wouldn’t be level for us or almost any other family with a child on the Autism Spectrum.

The Disabled Assistance System is a solution, but it’s not the right solution because it ignores the actual problem – the ease with which despicable people can scam their way to benefits meant to accommodate those who are unfortunate enough to live with such physical and mental challenges. Disney has a superb track record in making their guests’ visits as enjoyable as possible: I hope they are willing to reconsider their present course of action and invest the time to come to a solution that doesn’t make it more difficult for families of children with special needs to experience the joy and wonder of a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.

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