Thursday, 16 May 2013

Families Hiring Disabled Tour Guides to Bypass Lines at Disney World

So, apparently the way to see Disney World is to hire a disabled person to pose as a family member, so that you can bypass the rides for the lines. Social anthropologist Dr. Wednesday Martin cracked the story while doing research for her upcoming book, "Primates of Park Avenue".

"This is how the one percent does Disney," said a mother who enlisted the services of Dream Tours Florida to provide her with what she called a "tour concierge". For $130 an hour (or $1040 for an 8-hour day), a woman on a motorized scooter with a "handicapped" sign on it accompanied the woman, her husband and two children through the park during their visit, enabling them to access a special entrance at all the rides where the wait time was significantly shorter.

Disney offers a VIP tour service that's a bit cheaper, but parents are finding that this "black market" service is apparently worth the cost. The service is accessible only by "insider knowledge", with the most recent group of "insiders" being New York's private school set, according to Martin.

Is Dream Tours Wrong for What They're Doing at Disney World?

I think that they are, bottom line.

I'm not going to pretend that people didn't suggest to me, when I was in my wheelchair, that I visit the large Canada's Wonderland amusement park while I was still dependent on it, so that I could take advantage of not having to wait in line. I never got around to it. A day at the Metro Toronto Zoo in my wheelchair, which didn't have the fuss of constantly transferring on and off of rides, was exhausting enough (for both me and for the people pushing me.)

And the part of me that dislikes Disney smiles a bit to think of anyone sticking it to them. But only a little bit, because overall I find this Dream Tours-Disney World thing. pretty icky.

Even if the disabled people in question are getting a decent wage out of the money that Dream Tours brings in for having them escort people around the park (and let's hope that they are), I just cringe at this. Not only does it contribute to the cultural perception that disabled people and what they go through isn't really to be taken seriously, it potentially makes it much more difficult for people who are legitimately disabled to get what the need to enjoy the park. Now that Disney World is aware that people are scamming the system, they're likely to be much more diligent about who's going to get access to the disabled passes (which, as people like Brenda Rothman have written about in detail, can be difficult to procure to begin with). In the name of shortening the wait for people that can afford the service (and that are physically able to manage the line-ups), Dream Tours may make Disney World more reluctant to provide services for people who really can't manage the long wait. Perhaps they didn't think about that as a consequence of making this service available, but that's just symptomatic of our culture's attitude toward disability as a whole: their needs are invisible. They're invisible.

Hopefully Disney World won't go that way and will choose to crack down on agencies like Dream Tours who are offering this black-market service, instead of punishing the guides themselves and other disabled people who visit the park. But I feel like it could go the other way too.

And for those that would argue, "The disabled people who are acting as the guides didn't have to take the job," you'd be right. I don't imagine that Dream Tours held a gun to anyone's head and said, "You have to help us lead rich people around Disney World so that they don't have to stand in line!" But when you consider that it's very difficult for disabled Americans to get income support, with cuts to supports and services especially in the face of the Sequester affecting how well they can survive, with the unemployment rate for disabled people in the US still standing at nearly twice what it is for non-disabled Americans...can you blame a person for taking a job for which they're uniquely qualified, whether it's the right thing to do or not?

I think that, if I were in that position, the thing that would bother me the most is having people look at me and feel like they're making the assumption that it's all I'm capable of doing. That the only marketable job skill I have, so to speak, is the fact that I'm disabled and can get people onto the rides faster at Disney World. It feels like it would be terribly dehumanizing.

And the last thing that disabled people need is more dehumanization. I hope that Disney World keeps this in mind, makes the right choices as it deals with this, and doesn't end up punishing disabled people for something that isn't their fault.

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  1. I could never blame a disabled person for doing what they need to do to survive in a rather uncaring world. Yet, for families who are abled themselves and perpetuate this scam and fraud, I have nothing but loathing and condemnation. Not much different from an able teen using dead grandma's Handicap placard to grab a reserved space for the disabled.

  2. I don't blame the disabled people for taking the jobs either, which is why I'd argue that they not be included in whatever penalty (if any) Dream Tours incurs from running this scam on Disney...because, even if the guides pocket the full amount that the tourists pay per hour (which seems unlikely to me), it seems to me like Dream Tours has exploited the guides in that it's taken a group that traditionally finds it difficult to find employment and often lives in poverty and put them in the position of having to say, "Yeah, this is a little sketchy, but can I really turn down a job right now?"

    And as for the families taking advantage of this "opportunity"...I think that you've said it all.