Changes to Disneyland Disability Pass Brings out the Bad and the Ugly

disneylandNot long ago, I wrote about how Disneyland truly was the happiest place on Earth for many children with autism, thanks to the disability pass which enabled guests and their families to bypass the long, loud lines.

Disneyland and Disneyworld had this policy for many years; yet, thanks to an expose of disgusting, unethical behavior of some people who abused the system meant to help those truly in need– Disney decided to do away with the disability pass, replacing it with a pass that does nothing to put off the extremely long wait times, but allows you the ability to go elsewhere to do it. So your autistic kid can still have his meltdown, but he can do it off to the side somewhere.

Autism Speaks gave its input to the pass abuse problem and apparently signed off on this system, so the autism “contingent” has, in the eyes of the Disney corporation, been consulted and given its blessing. Hallelujah!

Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of parents of children with autism, and individuals with autism, have signed petitions claiming to Disney that Autism Speaks does not speak for them. Heartfelt letters from angry, saddened and beleaguered parents of children with autism are pouring in begging for a return of the original pass, which meant to them being able to take their child to the one truly fun, happy place where their family could find peace and their child experience joy. Many bought season passes with money they could barely afford that are now worthless to them — as despite what Disney and Autism Speaks may say, the system is not going to work for many families with autistic children. Disney should give these people their money back. Pronto.

And then there are the mean-spirited, ugly comments filled with prejudice, anger and being delivered to a population that is no stranger to hearing mean, ugly, ignorant things said about them — to their faces, behind their backs or, in this case, justified by following a piece of online journalism by respected media outlets. The New York PostThe L.A. TimesCNN – Google “Disneyland Disability Pass Change,” or any combination of those words and read the comments after the articles, which all pretty much say the same thing.

“It’s about time they had to wait in line like the rest of us.” “You lazy people, so entitled, you’re getting what you deserve.” “Too bad, you got away with cutting in line for so long.” “Now things are more fair for everyone.”

Fair? Lazy? Entitled?

Seriously, is anyone seeing what’s going on here? It’s like a witch hunt, with kids who have language issues, sensory issues and developmental disabilities being labeled greedy, privileged and entitled.

Fair? Do these people really think it’s fair for families to have to figure out how to get through an hour wait time with a screaming child, when the simple solution of the pass solved this problem?

One comment said that “If your child has autism and has sensory issues or problems waiting in line, then you have no business bringing your kids to an amusement park.”Several people followed up that comment with the literary equivalent of a “high-five,” agreeing. Thank goodness, justice is finally coming to pass. Get rid of those disabled people. They have no place at Disneyland anyway.

Come on, Disney corporation, surely, this is not what you wanted. But this is certainly what you now have.

Autism Speaks, your press release claiming that people just don’t like change, as a reason for why all the protest and petitions is painfully missing the mark. Listen to what folks are saying. If you’re advocating for the autism community, you cannot go mute when it comes to a backlash of this nature. Speak up or call yourself something else.

People who are not directly affected by autism, who haven’t raised a child with autism or have not seen first hand the judgmental stares from folks who can’t handle listening to a child’s melt-down without giving some stupid comment or tidbit of “advice” for the frazzled mom or dad — they don’t get it. They should spend a day in the shoes of a mother with a tantruming autistic child and then let’s hear their snide comments about what is fair and equal. How “spoiled” these folks are, in the words of one pithy commentator.

Clearly, not every person with autism needs a disabled pass in order to enjoy Disneyland or Disneyworld, or any amusement park for that matter. But certainly, there are many kids who do need it. Surely, it must be obvious to anyone who understands autism that there will be many, many children who will not be able to wait an hour to go on a ride, whether they wait in a shady, quiet spot or not.

And all of those complaints and comments from people who are aghast that Disney allows a child’s entire family to experience a ride with him and “cut” in line — they surely aren’t thinking. If they were, they would realize that the point of going to an amusement park as a family is to experience a ride as a family. To have a shared memory. To make a connection.

How many opportunities at these fun, shared memories do you think many children with autism get? How many family events, school events, life events will be truly inclusive to a child with autism? Disneyland and Disneyworld was one of the few places that created happy memories and connection for many families for many years. And now that is gone. Progress? Whose progress? Who does this really help and at what cost?

For those families who abused the system by paying for disabled access, what is their actual punishment? Now they will have to pay money to Disneyland or Disneyworld for a special “guided tour” to skip to the head of lines — While the disabled boys and girls have to patiently wait.

About Bonnie Weinstein Crowe

Bonnie Weinstein Crowe is an author, artist, advocate and the mother of a child with high functioning autism.
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