At first, I thought it was a joke, easily dismissing it as something somebody must have made up. It was too outrageous otherwise. But when I saw the story all over facebook, and on websites I frequent as a wheelchair user, I started to pay attention.
People with disabilities were being hired by moms from Manhattan, who wanted to take their kids to Disney World and not have to wait on any lines. The going rate was $130 per hour. And the “employees” simply had to sit in an electric scooter and look like they were part of the family. Disney has a policy that people with disabilities can access rides by going right up front. The policy applies to people with disabilities and up to five members of their party. So these moms thought they had a good thing going. VIP tours at Disney cost at least twice that much. So, hiring a person in order to take advantage of their disabling condition was a bargain.
When I shared this story with a few of my friends, some of them thought it was brilliant. “All you have to do Lorraine,” they said with a smile, “is book a cheap flight to Orlando. You do live on a fixed income, after all.” But I didn’t even want to joke about it. I was furious.
The practice is fraud. Plain and simple. But for me, that is not the frustrating part. The rage inside me stems from the fact that the women doing the hiring believe that accommodations can be bought.
You know what? Sometimes reality just bites, and if you want to see an attraction, you have to wait your turn. Long lines aren’t the end of the world. Get over it. Seriously. If Space Mountain is as spectacular as they say, it should be worth waiting for. Just sayin’.
As a wheelchair user, I understand that many people think there are certain “perks” that go along with disability. Accessible parking tags are power on a busy day at the mall. Designated bathroom stalls provide much more room to put down a purse or recent purchases. Accessible public transportation means that I get door to door service and will never have to remain at a bus stop in the rain.
But none of those things are perks. They are accommodations. There is a distinct difference between the two.
I define a perk as a fringe benefit, an added bonus in a situation that is given freely, over and above what is necessary. An accommodation, on the other hand, is a policy, or a structural change to a building, making things possible that would have been unworkable otherwise.
Getting a free meal in a restaurant is a perk. However, putting a ramp and a wider doorway on that same establishment are accommodations for wheelchair users, as are the Braille menus provided for people that are blind.
Wikipedia defines a reasonable accommodation as “an adjustment made in a system to “accommodate” or make fair the same system for an individual based on a proven need.”
Still, an outsider might argue that having policies for people with disabilities that don’t apply to the general public isn’t fair. In the context of disability, I disagree. One cannot experience the “perks” without also experiencing the pain. If you don’t have a disability, my challenge to you is to rent a wheelchair for a day and notice how people interact with you differently. Then try to go to a public restroom in that wheelchair that doesn’t have a stall big enough for you to close the door. You will figure out what I mean pretty darn quickly. And when that happens, you might get an inkling as to why I am so offended when I hear about people who are willing to “pimp out” their disability to the highest bidder at Disney World.
Society has not always been what it is today. When I was ready to start kindergarten, my parents had to fight to put me in a typical classroom. The powers that be at the school in my neighborhood assumed that my physical disability meant that a special education class was the only option for my education.
There are countless stories about people with disabilities who have been pioneers in this country, fighting for the right to be treated like everyone else for decades.
So when someone thinks it is okay to “use” their disability for selfish gain I get angry. Those kinds of actions are a slap in the face to people who have spent their lives protesting treatment that has often been unjust, and protesting the attitude that has existed in this society that unjust treatment is acceptable. It makes me think the respect that people with disabilities undoubtedly deserve has taken a step backward. That is one of the things about this situation that I believe is unfair.
Added to that is the fact that Disney World is now reviewing their policy as it relates to people with disabilities not waiting in line to access their rides. I completely understand their need to do so. My fear is that people with disabilities who legitimately cannot wait in line will go to Disney World and end up suffering consequences because of some morally wrong decisions made by others.
I have lived with my disability for a long time now. The experience doesn’t define me, but it has shaped my life in both positive and negative ways. I don’t think I would have my unique voice of advocacy without it. And it is likely that I wouldn’t be a ballroom dancer if I had to make the moves on my feet.
But my disability also has meant that I have had numerous health setbacks in my life, making it impossible for me to work full time. Therefore, I live on Social Security Disability payments and food stamps, government sponsored health programs and in low-income housing.
I would give anything for that aspect of my situation to be different.
Even so, there are many people who think that I “live off the system” because I am lazy and that I am taking “handouts.” If I would only work harder and not make excuses, they claim, my life could be drastically different than it is right now.
If you want to have a debate about whether the programs I speak of are essential for my livelihood, I am up for it. I have heard that argument many times before, and I am sure that I will hear it again.
So if you want to take up the issue with me, be my guest. But there is a catch.
You are going to have to wait in line.