Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It's a Small World, After All

I'm trying to imagine the conversation, trying to put myself in another person's glass slippers shoes, so to speak.

I'm thinking the scenario goes something like this:

Two moms, both living with their modern-day Prince Charmings in Manhattan.

Both with children attending the same private school.

Mom A mentions that they're going to Disney World for spring break and Mom B's response is the all-too-familiar eye-roll, accompanied by the even more familiar been-there done-that semi-annoyed sigh.

That's because Mom A and Mom B know what we all know - that even though Disney is supposedly The Most Magical Place on Earth, it can also be akin to The Seventh Ring of Hell (at least in my view) with wait times for rides being as long as 90 minutes, according to a poll of my friends via Facebook.

A disclaimer: I don't wait 90 minutes for anything. Not a table in an overpriced chain restaurant, and certainly not for a 3 minute amusement park ride, Disney or no Disney. Hence, I needed to do the Facebook poll of friends who have gone to the Magic Kingdom as a family because The Betty and Boo Family has not made a sojourn to Orlando, Land of Required Childhood Vacation Spots. Nor do we plan to in the foreseeable future. 

(I know. My kids are dreadfully deprived.)

But! There's good news for those who ARE sprinkled with pixie dust. Apparently it's now possible to arrange for a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! You now have a pumpkin in the form of a motorized scooter or wheelchair and your long-line ride problem is solved!

According to an article in yesterday's New York Post, you can hire a disabled "black-market tour guide" (the NY Post's words, not mine) to pose as a member of your family's entourage and therefore easily bypass those pesky 90 minute wait times for the rides by taking advantage of Disney's services for guests with disabilities. (Disney allows each guest who needs a wheelchair or motorized scooter to bring up to six guests with him or her to a more convenient ride entrance.)

This supposedly could have been arranged via a VIP Tour with Dream Tours Florida, a firm reportedly owned by Ryan Clement and his girlfriend Jacie Christiano, and will run you $130 per hour, or $1,030 for an eight hour day. (They are, according to their website, suddenly not offering such tours at this time "[d]ue to inaccurate press and slander.") This practice was discovered by social anthropologist Dr. Wednesday Martin while doing research for her new book, Primates of Park Avenue. She is also the author of (in keeping with the Disney theme) Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do. 

Okay. Deep breaths. As you might imagine, I have a few issues with all of this.

First, let's play devil's advocate for a minute. Like all good movies, sometimes what we think we're seeing isn't always the whole truth. One reads that all these rich bitches are hiring these tour guides, which then somehow translates into our minds as there must be this underground secret stash somewhere of developmentally disabled people that Dream Tours is exploiting by renting out by the hour.

Which is entirely believable because we have seen such examples of such depravity time and time again, haven't we? It's our biggest fear as parents, as people who love someone with a disability, and it's not impossible for us to go there, to make that leap, because we've seen the worst in people. (Hell-lo, Cleveland!)

We know and we fear the happily-never after side of how our kids and the most vulnerable are treated by the Cruella de Villes lurking among us.

But could it also be possible that Mr. Clement and Ms. Christiano, for whatever reasons - call it desperation, call it greed, call it whatever - are in this just for themselves? That they see this as a way for Ms. Christiano (who reportedly has an auto-immune disease and uses a scooter) as a way to make a few extra bucks? Who the hell knows how their business was really doing in this shit-tastic economy? Maybe it's really just Ms. Christiano who is really the only "black-market tour guide" who is earning $1,030 a day by using her disability to help families get onto the rides faster.

I'd like to believe that. I really would. I'd like to believe that their bungled media response to reporters' questions is simply a result of scared naivete, of poor crisis communications management. (And if that's the case, I hope they get in touch if they need a PR strategist. I happen to be available.)

That still doesn't make it right.

Because there are still a lot more things incredibly wrong and rightfully outrageous about this.

In my view, this story shows that we truly do live in a small, small world when it comes to employment and people with disabilities.

It's a small, small world where only 20.7% of the labor force is made up of people with disabilities. (Source: United States Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy)

It's a small, small world when the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is at 12.9%, compared to 6.9% for people without. (Source: United States Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy)

And it will continue to be a small, small world with the current dismal economy and the state of human services for the number of people with disabilities who need gainful, meaningful employment as well as those who will need jobs in the future.

We're living in a fairy tale, going 'round and 'round on the same ride.

The only way this story has a chance of a happy ending is if changes are made. Because people with special needs deserve the same employment opportunities as all of us. Because if indeed there was a practice of employing and hiring people with disabilities for the purpose of skirting the system, then the outrage most certainly belongs with those who perpetrated such morally despicable acts.

And it certainly belongs on a mindset that sees people with disabilities mere playthings for the rich, as objects and goods to be bought and sold on the "black market."

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Kathy Radigan said...

Great response to this!! I loved it! Thanks!

Lisa Gradess Weinstein said...

I agree, shamefully wrong to hire people with disabilities to pose as family members! As for Disney, there is also something called a Fast Pass, you can get a Fast Pass and it will give you a specific time to return to an attraction - then when you return you don't have to wait in the long lines. The Fast Pass has its pros and cons, but we've used it to our advantage. I love, love, love Disney. We even have a Disney Time Share. It's mostly about the customer service - I could go on forever. But if you do ever change your mind about going, I'll tell you everything you want to know!

Elizabeth said...

I don't know, Melissa. I put absolutely no stock in anything the New York Post writes, and this article stunk of hideous journalism. The "sources" weren't even named! I think what all the publicity does is further erode the vast disparities that you mention in your excellent post -- and undermine the efforts of those in the disability advocacy world. People will pay far more attention to this than any of the real problems that the disabled face.