Disney is changing the rules that allow disabled people to skip the queues at its US theme parks, after it emerged that wealthy, able-bodied visitors had been abusing the system.
Under the current policy, those with special needs are given quick access to rides and other attractions, to avoid the typically long waiting times at Disneyland in California, and Walt Disney World in Florida. However, the company now says the scheme has proven “problematic”. From next month, it will instead offer disabled people reservation times for each ride, similar to restaurant bookings.
The move comes after a recent New York Post article claiming that wealthy New Yorkers had hired disabled “black market Disney guides” to accompany them to Disney World in Orlando. These guides, who offered their services for $130 an hour (£81), or just over $1,040 (£649) for a full day, would reportedly pose as family members, meaning their clients could skip the queues. Until now, Disney has permitted anyone with a wheelchair to bring as many as six guests with them to a ride’s backdoor entrance.
According to the Post, social researcher Wednesday Martin uncovered the practice during her research for a book about Manhattan’s moneyed elite. “This is how the one per cent does Disney,” one woman told the paper, after she used a disabled guide to get her family quick access to the Florida park’s attractions.
A Disneyland resort spokeswoman said the company’s new policy was designed to curb such abuse. In a statement, Suzi Brown, the California park’s director of media relations, said, “Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing accommodations for guests with disabilities.” From 9 October, disabled visitors will be assigned reserved times to board each attraction, based on the length of the queue at the time. Should the queue for Space Mountain be 45 minutes, for example, the guest will be given a ticket allowing them to return through a backdoor entrance in 45 minutes’ time. Until then, they can enjoy another less busy attraction without queuing up. Those deemed to be accompanying disabled visitors legitimately will be able to join them.
The prospective changes have not been universally welcomed. A petition on the progressive website Moveon.org, demanding Disney reconsider, has attracted 20,000 signatures. The petition suggests the new policy will deter disabled visitors.
Disney reportedly consulted on the changes with the advocacy group Autism Speaks, but the plan has nonetheless been criticised by families of children with autism. Rebecca Goddard told the Orange County Register that she takes her two autistic sons, aged four and six, to Disneyland once a week. If they are made to wait in line for long, they start pushing other people. “My boys don’t have the cognition to understand why it’s going to be a long wait,” she said.