The 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.
725 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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