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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Thoughts on Disney's Disability Access Service Card (Or, Why itSometimes Sucks to Be Disabled)

In the last post that I wrote about Disney's new Disability Access Service Card, I said that it was receiving, at best, mixed reviews. Well, the chickens have come home to roost on that. Sixteen families of children and youth with developmental disabilities (including autistic children) are now suing Disney on the grounds that the new Disability Access Service Card regulations aren't ADA-compliant.  And I don't think that there's really much to say about this except that sometimes, as positive as I try to stay about my situation, it really does suck to be disabled. I think it must especially suck for children.

The Disability Access Service Card: The Complaints


I thought hard about what I wanted to say about this. It's a tough situation.

The Disability Access Service Card's older equivalent allowed families with members who were unable, due to disability, to handle waiting in line the option to move to the front of the ride lines. It was being abused, however, by families that hired a disabled person to accompany them to Disney parks in order to avoid waiting in line. The current Disability Access Service Card lets families schedule a time to go on a ride, depending on current wait times, so that they don't have to physically stand in line. However, they can only have a return time to one ride scheduled at a time, and the disabled person must be with the group in order for everyone to ride.

For autistic children especially, the Disability Access Service Card has been causing more issues than it solves. Disabilityscoop.com outlines why some of the parents involved in the lawsuit have found the Disability Access Service Card policies especially problematic:
In the suit, a mother known as M.B. alleges that she waited in line for an hour and a half to receive a Disability Access Service Card for her 6-year-old with autism who is referred to in court documents as A.B. Even though she offered park officials medical documentation about her child’s inability to tolerate waits, the mother says she was given no choice but to schedule a return time at “It’s a Small World” which A.B. wanted to ride repeatedly. After riding twice, A.B. faced another hour-and-fifteen-minute wait and entered a “full-fledged meltdown,” the lawsuit alleges.

In a separate case, the suit indicates that a mother known as L.C. tried to take her 7-year-old with autism, referred to as J.C., to Disney World several times since the new policy took effect. L.C. said her child has had multiple meltdowns after learning of wait times to ride “Peter Pan” and “Winnie the Pooh,” with J.C. falling to the ground or jumping up and down with arms spinning around. As a result, L.C. is no longer taking her child to Disney parks and does not plan to renew the family’s annual passes.

As always, the comments on the article on telling. Some parents whole-heartedly support the lawsuit, and tell their own stories of how Disney's Disability Access Service Card is doing exactly the opposite of what it's supposed to be doing. Others talk about how Disney couldn't do enough to accommodate the needs of their disabled child. And others talk about how parents who expect that their disabled children should always be able to go to the front of the line don't want equality, but special treatment.

I addressed the last concern when I last blogged about the Disability Access Service Card, when I talked about how equality doesn't always mean that everyone gets treated the same way...it means that everyone gets equal access to what they need to be successful. And if "success" is a fun day for a disabled child with a minimum amount of stress for them, and decreased time in line is something that's needed for that to happen, then there should be a way to facilitate that. I think that parents were hoping that the Disability Access Service Card was still going to allow them to avoid problematic line-ups.

I do see where other parents are coming from as well, though. The list of developmental disabilities that could potentially cause difficult-to-manage behaviours that might be exacerbated by the limitations of the Disability Access Service Card is quite long, depending on how a disability manifests in a given child at a given time: Attention Deficit Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (lots of "disorder" talk there, please excuse me; diagnostic language is bad for this), plus any number of mental conditions, none of which are a child's fault. But when there are a whole whack of kids who (legitimately) *always* get to go to the front of the line, there are also always a whole whack of kids who are also going to always have to wait longer.

Is that the disabled kids' problem? No. Their needs are not their fault. But it's not also particularly fair to non-disabled kids and their families, either.

There really is no easy way to make things fair for both groups, and I think that the Disability Access Service Card does represent efforts on Disney's part to level the playing field for everyone. What they've come up with one this first shot at the Disability Access Service Card probably isn't the best answer.

But this *is* just the first shot.

The Disability Access Service Card: Things to Consider


Which I know means very little if you're in the group that's actually being affected by all this. The unfortunate thing for these disabled children, who deserve a wonderful day at Disney World or Disneyland just as much as any other child, is that we're still at a period in history where we're learning about disability rights, accessibility, and accommodation by seeing what hasn't worked in the very recent past and improving on it using a body of knowledge that's still very much in development. It wasn't so long ago that society thought the "right thing" to do with disabled children was to tell their parents, "Put them in an institution and forget about them", and in some respects we still haven't come very far. We learn as we go along, and while it would be awesome to be able to perceive an issue, snap our fingers, and say, "Hey, taken care of! Attitudes altered, policies changed, loose ends tucked up, all neat and tidy!", it doesn't work that way.

It takes time, and dialogue, and a step forward and two steps back. And sometimes an infinite amount of patience. And I believe that it really does take the assumption of good intentions. Maybe not every employee at every Disney park is perfectly modelling attitudes of inclusiveness and accommodation (and when discrimination happens, people need to report it, and Disney needs to build trust with its customer base by dealing with it in a timely and appropriate manner), but I don't believe, as these lawsuits allege, that there's a plot afoot within the Disney corporation to purge the parks of autistic children. If I did, then I'd be calling for a very different discussion, and probably paying very little attention to this Disability Access Service Card.

(And if disabled children were being abused or dying at the hands of Disney in their parks, then everything that I said about having to live with the fact that this process taking time and patience and the assumption of good intentions goes out the window. But that's not what's happening here, thank God.)

I concede that it's possible that Disney is being run by heinously ableist people. I've never seen any conclusive evidence of that, and don't figure that the public ever would, should it be the case - the people that run Disney are simply too business-savvy to let the corporation be seen in that light.  Disney doesn't like negative press, including people who talk about being discriminated on the basis on disability in the theme parks. I think that Disney will refine the Disability Access Service Card as it learns what does and doesn't work, despite its stance on the lawsuit that it's already fully complying with ADA regulations. Politicians may not be aware that disabled people want to travel, and will return to places that accommodate their needs and make them feel welcome, but you can bet that the head people at Disney are aware of it. They can't afford not to be.

Again, cold comfort to the people who have to put up with an organization with lots of money and resources just "learning as it goes".

The Disability Access Card: Sometimes Disability Sucks


I like to stay positive, and I don't say things like, "Disability sucks" very often. But yeah, it does suck that disabled children leave Disney World and Disney Land having had a bad experience, just because true inclusion is a goal that even huge companies with lots of money still struggle to reach...or often even understand. That'd be a hard thing for any kid to understand. How does a parent explain to a child, "They couldn't handle your needs very well, so we may go somewhere else for vacation from now on, or maybe we'll go when you're a bit older..." when Disney World is the only place that child wants to go?

I'm not a parent who's been hoping, hoping, hoping that Disney World was going to be the place where I could have a family vacation, complete with my disabled child. I could see how it would be...very difficult.

The bright side is that, as far as I know, a whole lot of people have survived without ever visiting  a Disney theme park, or only going once. I only went once. It was cold, colder than the Toronto climate that we'd left. My parents hated Florida and vowed never to go back. My sister and I turned out just fine. (Well, arguably fine. Mostly fine, I think).

An easy decision for my parents...maybe not so easy for these parents that are suing. Again, I don't presume to know.

There are just lots of things to consider here before jumping to lawsuit territory, I believe. The money spent on a trial could buy a lot of kick-ass vacation in places that are very committed to accessibility and to making sure that guests of all ages can participate in all activities.  (Check out the website for Hasquila Amazon Lodge...jungle fun in the only accessible lodge in Ecuador!)

As usual, there are no easy answers. I don't know why I expected that there would be.



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