Despicable at Disney

May 30th, 2013 | Posted in General

elizabeth-at-disneyThe Lovely Anna and the Animated Elizabeth at Walt Disney World

Bear with me for the set-up to this, because it needs it.

Frequent readers of my blog probably know that my oldest child, Elizabeth (23) is autistic…and not the kind of autism where you go to college, write books, appear on “America’s Top Model” or get “cured” by Jenny McCarthy and a gluten-free diet. Elizabeth has the rocking back and forth, hand-flapping, struggling with simple communication type autism. In other words, she won’t be going to college, getting married, having kids or living a “normal” life. She’ll be with us until she or we are gone. Do not feel sorry for us, she is the light of our lives and faces her challenges as best she can, making me as proud of her as I am of any of my other “normal” kids, which is pretty damn proud. Anyway, she’s our Elizabeth and we love her with all our hearts.

She does not do very well with crowds, and has a very hard time with anything that is not part of an expected routine. There are certain things she responds to and is able to enjoy or at least tolerate because aspects of it are familiar to her, and they are things she loves. For a while she was really into Rachel Ray via her TV show, you can read a great story about Elizabeth and Rachel here…. that tells the story of one of those moments when you meet someone who really “gets” how the simplest things can make such a huge difference for those with special needs. The old “Roseanne” TV show is also one of those things that makes Elizabeth happy… don’t ask me how it happened but she is obsessed with Roseanne and until I figured out how to digitize her full collection of DVDS of all the seasons to her computer and thus her iPad, we were buying sets of it over and over due to her penchant to get overstimulated while watching them and bite the DVDs in half. I probably personally funded a new wing on one of Rosanne’s mansions with all the DVDs we bought. Now she watches them over and over on her iPad, along with children’s music videos like the Kidsongs and WeeSing series, about a hundred Barney and Sesame Street videos, “Full House” and, among her favorites, the live-action Disney Sing-Along series that features the costumed characters with real kids cavorting about in Disney World and other locations.

Because of the challenges with her autism, we seldom can get her to travel with us anywhere. She basically shuts down and sleeps 24/7 in the hotel requiring one of us to stay with her, or when we do try and take her out she gets overstimulated and has a meltdown or acts inappropriately… we once took her to New York City and I had to go out into the lobby with her for most of the performance of “The Lion King” because she started laughing hysterically during the Mufasa death scene. We got some looks, I can tell you. She is essentially miserable on these trips, so we gave up long ago with most of them and have friends of the family or professionals watch her back home when we go places as she is much happier in her little cocoon of familiarity.

One of the few things we have been able to do with her is go to Disney World in Florida every year. 16 years ago Anna and I bought into a timeshare in Orlando, where we always go and stay in basically the same unit each time, which is comforting for Elizabeth because she knows what to expect. It has become part of her routine and she actually looks forward to the trip each year. Being that she loved the Disney characters through the videos, she also loves Disney World… but the crowds, the long lines, and crush, would quickly drive her crazy except for one very important factor:

Disney has policies in place that allow disabled/special needs people to enjoy the parks despite their challenges, and they treat such guests with the kind of attention that makes a difference.

We learned about this early on in our Disney travels. Guest services will assess your situation and issue you a special pass that will help you with whatever challenges you have with your special person. It varies with each person’s needs, but they are very good at figuring out what you need to help you enjoy the day. It would be impossible for Elizabeth to go to one of those parks if she had to wait in line for 2 hours to go on a ride. We might as well not even bother to try, she’d never even make it to the front of the first line. The “Golden Ticket” as we call it allows us to use the Fast Pass line without needing a Fast Pass time stamp ticket, making our usual wait time about 15 minutes or so. That is very manageable for Elizabeth. That also means, of course, that the rest of us get that privilege along with her, which doesn’t suck. We do it with a small amount of guilt, but we get over that… there are very few “perks” involved with having a special needs kid, and this is one we take advantage of seeing as how Elizabeth really does need this if she’s going to be able to go do Disney. She loves the parks, BTW. She has a set schedule in her head about which day we go to which park, and has her favorite rides she goes on two or three times. Seeing her face on “It’s a Small World” is one of the highlights of my entire year. Most people cringe when they hear that song… I smile every time.

So I’m finally getting around to the point of this post. One of the really annoying things we’ve seen at Disney in recent years are families checking out wheelchairs when no one actually needs one, and then trying to use them to get into handicap entrances to the rides. I’ve literally seen the same family throughout the day but with different members in the wheelchair each time. That’s pathetic, and fortunately Disney is smart enough to have closed that loophole with line queues wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, so those using one but who are not badly disabled don’t need to bypass the regular line. That’s bad enough, but then you now have this kind of thing. Briefly, that link is to a story about how rich families are hiring disabled “tour guides” and pretending they are part of the family so they can use the disabled access and bypass the lines. The story says that Disney “vows action” about this issue.

How reprehensible can you get? You hire a token handicapped person so you and your spoiled little brat kids don’t have to stand in line like the rest of the Great Unwashed? It is amazing to me how selfish and self-absorbed people can be… here is our family feeling a little guilty using one of these passes, when we have an obviously autistic daughter who we take care of 365 days a year, and you have these wealthy, privileged people “renting” one so they can get the same treatment? Wow, words really do fail me. If I was suddenly faced with someone who was doing just that, right in front of me, I am not sure I could prevent myself from beating the living shit out of every one of them. . . except the tour guide. They get a pass. They are trying to make a little money, even if they of all people should know how wrong this is. *Have to edit that after watching an undercover Today show video of this exact problem. Turns out many of the “disabled” tour guides are either not really disabled or their disability is of the type that would not prevent them from using the normal queues and entrances to the attractions (one in this video says she “used to have”back and leg problems). I envisioned wheelchair-bound people unable to work regular jobs. That aspect of it makes this all even worse.

What really concerns me here is how whatever solution they come up with will affect families with legitimate special needs. That pass isn’t a convenience for us, it’s a necessity. If we were to take Elizabeth to Disney World and be told we don’t get a disabled pass, we’d have to stop going there entirely. Amazing how the assholery of others can ruin things for people that really do need some help. I guess I have to trust to the Disney folks to figure out how to prevent this sort of thing but keep it from interfering with those with legitimate special needs.

Elizabeth’s annual Disney trip happens in October… Mickey, don’t let me down.


  1. Brian Fies says:

    People like to bag on Disney, for some good reasons that I understand. And yet…I have friends with a now-grown son who’s profoundly disabled, virtually unable to communicate, but he loves Disney. My friends take him to Disneyland, and seeing the photos of their trip–every Princess in the park being exceptionally kind to him (he loves the Princesses!), his joyful face on the rides, cast members going the extra 10 miles to make his experience a good one–you’d have to be pretty cold-blooded not to appreciate what they do and how they do it. I’m a fan, and I expect they’ll continue to do right by Elizabeth.

  2. My nephew has Down Syndrome and when he came into our lives, it was amazing how our hesitations at associating with someone with special needs melted away. Especially when we saw the unconditional love always present in those eyes. As to the point of your Blog, ya Daffy Duck wraps it up with one spit-filled word, “DEththPicable!!”
    I read the Rachel Ray story. My perception of her has sky-rocketed from that article…..I guess we are how we treat others. Thanks Tom, your friend Dan

  3. Wow. This is the most appalling thing I’ve seen done, and for the pettiest of reasons. You don’t want to do something g as basic as ‘wait in a line’ so you do something as heinous as this? Some people genuinely deserve to be thrown in a desert pit with their spine broken, Bruce Wayne style, to learn the value of simple things. I hope Disney do something to stamp this out. If they say they’re doing it, it means their press unit are on to it, and it’d be dreadful PR if they didn’t. I trust they will.

    Meanwhile, you and Anna are an inspiration. Your dedication to The Animated Elizabeth is so admirable; You really are amazing parents- she’s very lucky to have you both, and Tom, Gabrielle and Victoria as siblings!

    In 2010, I organised a fundraising cartoon exhibition in Australia to support families with kids with autism through Aspect / Autism Australia. They’re a remarkable organisation with volunteers putting in crazy hours and extra levels of commitment for the benefit of families like yours. I’m happy to say we raised a lot of money, and they extended the exhibition for seven more weeks due to its popularity. We’re looking at making it a regular fixture.
    Thanks for sharing the story- post an update if Disney end up doing something!

    • Tom says:

      Will do, and thanks for your efforts on behalf of families dealing with autism. There are many more good stories like yours than bad ones like I refer to in the post, and for that we are grateful.

  4. Tom, the word “assholery” is as good as it gets. I can’t say that I know how you feel but right is right and wrong is wrong and when I hear of self entitled people taking advantage of the system because they have some extra cash my blood boils. Stay the course and rest assured that these people will someday need to be accountable. Kudos to you.

    • Tom says:

      True. I am a big believer in Karma. Eventually doing wrong by people will be balanced out in the Ledger of Life… of course that wouldn’t prevent me from putting a boot in someones behind if I see it going on. Thanks.

  5. We take our disabled son to Disneyland, and they continue to improve the accessibility. They added special features for service dogs this year, a pass and pop-up kennels at some rides, if needed.

    This fake disability thing is fraud, pure and simple. It is deception for personal gain. It is very hard to fight, because there are privacy implications. When making decisions about access, you are forbidden to ask about a person’s disability.

    Because Disney does have guided special access (it’s expensive), these people are directly defrauding Disney, getting premium access without paying for it. Rule #1: Do not piss off Disney legal.

    Here on the west coast, especially in SF, we have a plague of fraudulent service dogs and disabled parking placards. I guess we need to add this kind of access fraud to the list.

    And I need to figure out that DVD-ripping thing. Kevin doesn’t bite them, but isn’t very gentle. We have to hit eBay for Disney movies in-between the infrequent official releases.

    Hi, Brian!

  6. Hannah Voss says:

    Precious story! A family I know with an 18 and 19 year old were taking their first trip to Disney a couple of years ago. They had it organized and budgeted down to the last minute and dime. They were proudly explaining how they would rent the wheel chair and take turns using it. I nicely explained the fast pass system but they were just thrilled that someone told them about the wheelchair. They really thought that nothing was wrong with it. Fortunately, or ironically, when they were there, the lines were short enough that they didn’t need to be fraudulent. Unfortunately, they are still idiots.
    Ps- I wouldn’t necessary call your other three “normal” but that’s just their favorite aunt talking. Snicker.

  7. Chesley White says:

    It is a sad fact that people are doing this. I heard the story on NPR a few weeks back, and one of these morons declared, “This is how the 1% does Disney!”. Made me sick. But if Disney is slow to rectify this, then it is tacitly approving of the practice, which is just as bad. Good luck to you and Anna, it’s great that you go the lengths that you do for Elizabeth.

  8. This is an AMAZING article I found on FaceBook by way of my brother Jerry (my avatar, by the way, was drawn by him MANY moons ago and is one of my favorite things ever.) I have shared this to my two oldest daughters knowing that they’ll share it and the word will spread. Thanks for sharing this, and I can appreciate your situation, albeit in a way that doesn’t approach your experience in any way shape or form. It takes a “special person” to raise one. And you are CLEARLY that. My hat’s off to you.

  9. unbelievable.

  10. Jim O'Harra says:

    Thank you and Anna for being such great parents by attending to Elizabeth’s special needs. I have attended Disney several times in the last 43 years using a wheelchair/mobility device and have been amazed to see families with a different child in the wheelchair throughout the day, none of which seemed to have mobility difficulties. It is uncomfortable to see folks with no regard for anyone but themselves to take advantage of situations which they are not faced nor familiar with. I often see the same situations in parking lots where a person will use a handicapped parking space without having any difficulty at all walking into the store and shopping. Reprehensible does not even come close to describing my feelings for these kinds of individuals. I too hope Disney will solve this problem which seemingly has gotten worse in the last few years.

  11. Gordon Purcell says:

    Great article that we really relate to! My son Jack is similarly autistic and will be with us for life too. He loves Disney videos, but is only so so on vacations to the parks. Rather watch the DVDs in the hotel room than drag around the park! But he really can light up watching the live LION KING shows or meeting the characters at Disney, so going to the parks is really worth it. The handicap pass is one of the few benefits we can get in a life of challenges for Jack–stop ruining this for the families who need this!

    • Tom says:

      God bless you and your family, Gordon. I am sure Jack is the same light in your life Elizabeth is for us. Hope to see you soon.

  12. Right there with you Tom‚Äö√Ñ√Æmulti-disability cerebral palsy son who’s been to Disney World twice.
    It’s a tough nut to crack Disney, but don’t let such reprehensible abuse of the system blow back on folks like us.

  13. Magical Moment says:

    I am a CM with WDW and I know just how much the park and the magic can do for children and adults with special needs. I have worked there for over a decade and I can tell you that in the past five or so years, the GAC abuse has become terrible. Day after day, I see people who are clearly not in need of it using it as their fastpass golden ticket. I want to say to these parties, “Do you believe in karma?” but alas, I cannot.

    There is a saying amongst CMs: “Those who truly need the GAC understand its limitations.” Meaning, if you approach my attraction and I state I can offer a return ticket or that the alt. entrance isn’t available at that moment, a guest who truly needs the GAC will thank me. A faker will scream in my face and claim I am “discriminating.”

    Anyway, I hope your family continues to enjoy the magic.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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