another reason I hate Disney
February 9, 2004 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Disney ends Special Needs Passes If Snopes says it, it's so....
posted by konolia (30 comments total)
An internet friend (who Snopes actually quotes here, how about that) informed a bunch of us at another forum I frequent about this. I was shocked to find out it was worse than she thought.

Did I mention how much I hate Disney?
posted by konolia at 4:22 PM on February 9, 2004

It seems like they aren't so much ended as suspended, until April or May according to the article. It's unfortunate that the actions of a few caused this to happen, but if the potential for abuse is so great then I think WDW is doing what's best for the majority of their guests.

That said, it does seem that there is a genuine need that will not be met, and I think that Disney will come out with a better program that will serve all its guests.
posted by Coffeemate at 4:27 PM on February 9, 2004

Requiring a doctor's note would surely eliminate the fakers, would it not? You would have to go to great lengths, as well as commit fraud, to cheat the system in that way.

That said, there are many better, saner alternatives to this form of McEntertainment. Ever heard of national parks?
posted by PrinceValium at 4:34 PM on February 9, 2004

Being myself mostly fully-enabled, I am unable to properly appreciate the difficulty of the new situation. Obviously if you've got a child such as described at Snopes life got a bit rougher for you, but what exactly is the objection for other people?

I have a disconnect here with "physically able to navigate the relative hazards of the park but unable to wait in line with the assistance of a cast member."
posted by Ogre Lawless at 4:36 PM on February 9, 2004

Since when is it the responsibility of a private company to accomodate every arbitrary need and demand of its audience, anyway?

As long as the public accomodation in question is in compliance with the ADA and does not otherwise present a discriminatory obstacle, I would imagine it's very much at Disney's discretion as to what circumstances it chooses to recognize as being worthy of special recognition.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:39 PM on February 9, 2004

chooses to recognize as being worthy of special recognition

...setting redundancy filter to off now.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:40 PM on February 9, 2004

Those special needs people got it easy. I mean, you see the parking spots they get at the mall these days?
posted by xmutex at 4:43 PM on February 9, 2004

Here are some quotes from posters over at my forum:

Exactly. There are adults who signed that letter who have things like multiple sclerosis. It's an "invisible disability" and they've been told my Disney they can't have one either. It's silly. There's one signature on there who's son was born without sweat glands. She said her son standing in the heat in June would have a seizure, go into a coma, and die w/ in hours. They've always used the pass to go on a decent number of rides in a few hours and go home before the heat of the day. But "hey, if I keep him there in the afternoon, maybe he'll qualify for the pass, because by then he WILL be terminal".

Too bad there's no financially feasible way to do it, but what would be great is to take thousands of families w/ autistic kids, decend on one day to Disneyland, go into their ques... and wait. Give our kids 20 minutes, and REGULAR patrons would be screaming for the return of the special assistance pass, especially if the parents just stayed calm and said during meltdown (with Tyler it'd be including strip show complete with throwing the articles of clothing and shoes) "well, they used to give us an access card that made it possible to wait in secluded areas for shortened periods of time. Now, they say our kids can wait with everyone else..."

Want to know what's even MORE frustrating? Every time I call I get the conversation that says "well, autism and other 'invisible' disabilities are done on a case by case basis in City Hall once you arrive."

Me: Who makes the decision?
Them: The Cast Member in City Hall.
Me: Could I bring some form of documentation, like a doctor's note or IEP?
Them: No, it's illegal for us to look at them anyways.
Me: So basically, you're telling me I'm supposed to spend thousands of dollars on a family vacation to end up where some costumed glorified customer service agent will decide if my child "looks autistic enough"?
Them: I'm sorry ma'am, that's all I can tell you.
Me: What exactly is "looks autistic enough".
Them: You know, visibly autistic.
Me: No, I'm confused. See, here I thought it took several doctors with specialized degrees to agree on an autism diagnosis as it is an INVISIBLE disability. And suddenly your cast members know more about Autism than trained and certified doctors?
Them: Ma'am, all we can do for you is tell you to come to City Hall and we'll let you know on a case by case basis.
Me: No thanks, I'll save and go to Disney World. They still accomidate invisible disabilites.

I've had SEVERAL phone calls along those lines

posted by konolia at 4:57 PM on February 9, 2004

Parents in a rage doesn't usually make for the best discourse.

I agree with adamgreenfield. Besides, people were gaming the system. They need time to figure out a new system and it looks like they will bring it back in some form. Surely, these parents can calm down and put off their Disney vacation for a few months.
posted by vacapinta at 5:04 PM on February 9, 2004

this is silly. Disney owes you and your children nothing. If you wanna get in a huff about it, don't take the chillun to disney land.

That said, there are many better, saner alternatives to this form of McEntertainment. Ever heard of national parks? W3RD
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 5:10 PM on February 9, 2004

some dumbass took a kid with no sweat glands out into a Florida summer? Up here in NY we would call that endangering a minor.
posted by MrLint at 5:14 PM on February 9, 2004

Requiring a doctor's note would surely eliminate the fakers, would it not? You would have to go to great lengths, as well as commit fraud, to cheat the system in that way.

People sadistic enough to rent wheelchairs would easily hit a few buttons on their computer to print out a fake doctor's note.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:31 PM on February 9, 2004

The folks at Bert's Big Adventure take terminally and critically-ill children to Disney World every year (they have a trip to WDW coming up in the next few weeks, according to their radio program).

Last year, one of the kids didn't have any sweat glands and he still had a great time. He and his family were really smart about the whole trip -- he spent a lot of time in the shade and in the pool. I guess that after a certain age, when you have that disease you just know how to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.

I hope that this policy change won't affect this year's trip too much for the kids and families who are being treated to this special VIP weekend. With all that they're going through in their regular lives, to have just a few days where they don't have to worry about the disease and conditions is priceless. I wish I could donate more money to Bert's Big Adventure than I already have; it's a great cause.
posted by aaaaa at 5:51 PM on February 9, 2004

I can tell you with absolute authority that the article at Snopes is not exactly correct. As a matter of fact, as soon as I read it I registered to post on their message board to clarify the issue, but the moderator has not approved my registration quite yet. Hopefully soon.

While it is absolutely true that Disneyland has eliminated the Special Assistance Pass, it is patently false that Walt Disney World has done the same. Point in fact, the system at Disneyland is being overhauled in order to better emulate the Guest Assistance Pass system at Walt Disney World. Here is some background for you:

For the past decade, Disneyland was run into the ground by the woefully inept management of Paul Pressler and then Cynthia Harriss. Along with the rest of the park going to hell, the Special Assistance Pass system was allowed to get completely out of hand. Prior to suspending the system, on a typical day in Disneyland they would issue well over 1,000 Special Assistance Passes, and often the number was substantially higher. By comparison on a typical day at Walt Disney World there are about 200 Guest Assisntance Passes issued for all four theme parks combined.

When Matt Ouimet took over running Disneyland a few months ago one of the first things he noted was the out of control SAP program. Given that his prior position was here in Orlando running the Disney Cruise Line, he was intimately familiar with the GAP system at WDW, thus his direction to scrap the failed program at Disneyland and replace it with the WDW system. But that takes time.

As for the policy for recieving passes at WDW, I can tell you that less than 48 hours ago I walked into Town Hall at The Magic Kingdom with my autistic son, asked for a Guest Assistance Pass, and the manager there was very friendly (as usual) and issued the pass right away. In the six months that I have been taking my son to the parks at WDW, the vast majority of my experiences with cast members when dealing with my son have been extremely positive. They are obviously very well trained in dealing with autistic children, and the few bad cast members I have encountered were rapidly corected by their co-workers.

So for the record: the pass system at Walt Disney World has not changed one iota and works extremely well (at least for autistic children). I have every confidence that given just a little bit of time to work it all out, the pass system at Disneyland will work equally well and will certainly accomodate "invisible" disabilities.
posted by Lokheed at 8:38 PM on February 9, 2004

He'd either lie on the floor crying, or start taking his shoes/clothes off and flinging them at people.

Sounds like me when I see people abusing the special needs passes / line jumping at amusment parks.
posted by tomplus2 at 9:02 PM on February 9, 2004

Mentioned before, but so my involvement is clear. I'm in charge of a web site called MousePlanet which covers all things Disney and this is something we've been watching.

Abuse of the system was rampant. Some people estimated that on some days over 20% of the people in the park were using SAPs.

The problem is that if you do any filtering, you are going to get at least some false positives and false negatives and those will make for terrible PR stories.

I think they needed to change something, and while it will negatively impact some it is overall a better policy.
posted by obfusciatrist at 9:48 PM on February 9, 2004

Damn. I knew I was missing something by playing by those damn rules...
posted by Samizdata at 11:32 PM on February 9, 2004

Good news Lokheed. Kind of like the "this ride is closed" but, what, the whole park? What is Disney doing in the interim? Something, I would hope.

I can imagine a harder rule that says "you in renta-cart != you at the front of line" but have a hard time thinking -anyone- would sign off on "you withering from the whatever, tough shit." Unless, like, they really -were- Hitler.

(and I have read a number of discussions on that subject, thank you)

konolia -- you are fairly closeted about "your forum", but I assume you are rather wound up about both Disney and certain perhaps unknowably bad maladies.

I am not personally familiar with the folks who staff City Hall but my understanding is that they and other "high profile" individuals -are- generally more capable of dealing with the broad range of customer issues than one might give them credit for. They do, after all, deal with people all day who expect City Hall to provide some sort of service for them.

Disney and his Land spew a certain bullshit at times, but there's a fine line between bullshit and magic I think -- they might be one and the same.

I am tempted to ask "why do you care." If you hate Disney, don't patronize them with anyone, sick or healthy.

Sadly, it sounds like the poster to said forum has a certain axe to grind. If she is repeatedly calling Disney and getting the same answer obviously the answer is not going to change and the only thing she's going to get out of it is the satisfaction for unloading on some complete stranger -- not nice.

"They still accomodate invisible disabilities."

Lady -- "they" are the same place, all the money goes into the same pockets. You have not won yourself anything here.

Autism is a horrible thing to have to deal with -- any developmental disability is. I suppose we all handle things in our own way. I would like to think that if I were in such a situation I could conduct myself with a certain degree of decorum without believing that perhaps the world owed me something without anyone's say-so.

Rather than berate phone drones over at the DL switchboard, perhaps you could try finding a contact at DL who would discuss the issue with you in a rational manner. Surely if this condition has been diagnosed by someone at some time, it should be documentable. Before you go, get a letter, a name and a phone number you can reach when you go to the park.

Bring documentation.

Be reasonable -- you'll find the world works much better that way.

While you calmly wait, watch people go by. Watch how many of them are behind you in line. Recognize that you have been afforded a privledge not afforded everyone, not even a few.

Remember that moment, because then, as you get on the ride, life will be good.

And perhaps it will all be worth it.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:15 AM on February 10, 2004

I can understand why autistic children can't wait in queues but why do kids in wheelchairs get to queue jump? I thought the idea these days was to treat them like other kids as far as possible?
posted by biffa at 3:05 AM on February 10, 2004

biffa - I can't speak for Disneyland, but at Walt Disney World if the line for an attraction is built to accomodate wheelchars (such as with newer attractions like Pooh and Mickey's PhilharMagic) then the person in the wheelchair is required to use the regular line. In the case of many older attractions that simply is not possible. On the Snow White ride, for example, the last part of the line features an anavoidable turnstile followed by a stretch bound by an iron fence on either side that is too narrow for wheelchais and includes a rapid switchback that a wheelchair could never navigate. For those attractions there is a separate wheelchair-accesible entrance. You are absolutely correct about what the Guest Assistance Pass is designed to do - it is to provide a disabled guest with equal access to the rides and attractions, not superior access.
posted by Lokheed at 3:19 AM on February 10, 2004

"Did I mention how much I hate Disney?"

yeah, by all means do. I mean, we're OK with the dishonest people who abused the system in the first place and forced Disney to change their policy.
I mean, it's so much easier to be angry at Disney.
posted by matteo at 4:38 AM on February 10, 2004

I spent some time during my college years working at a couple of the most popular of the Magic Kingdom attractions and I remember the uproar that arose when one of their queue lines was widened to better accomodate parties with wheelchair mobility -- wheelchair parties were asked to wait in the first part of the line, usually about 10-15 minutes during the busy times, up to a gate where they would then be boarded without having to deal with the last part of the queue [a ramp]. Like Lokheed just said.

Some of the parties were cool with it but most of them were outraged -- OUTRAGED. "Whaddaya MEAN we gotta wait in the line? Can't you see we gotta WHEELCHAIR right here?"

And as has been previously pointed out, the "hot part of the day" in Orlando in June is ALL DAMN DAY. The best time of the year to go to WDW is the first two, three weeks of December. The weather is a nice mild mid-sixties low seventies, and the atmosphere is the calm before the winter-school-break storm -- all of the Christmas decorations, a fraction of the wait times. My wife and I literally walked onto Mission:SP/\CE, the "new thing" at Epcot, last time we were there.

Sure, the parks close a little earlier, but you still get to ride everything because there's nobody there -- and the Virgin Megastore is still open until 11 or midnight every night. Metafilter Meetup, anyone? I live in Detroit, so we'll have to plan.
posted by britain at 5:17 AM on February 10, 2004

konolia -- you are fairly closeted about "your forum", but I assume you are rather wound up about both Disney and certain perhaps unknowably bad maladies.

It's a bipolar forum...some folks there have kids with dual diagnoses, some are bipolar folks with special needs kids, etc, etc. I personally wouldn't kick a hog in the butt to go to Disney, but these people have kids who want to go, and feel like Disney is giving them the shaft.

I've hated Disney with the heat of ten thousand Floridian suns for years, so this one topic doesn't make or break the mood for me. Heh.
posted by konolia at 5:33 AM on February 10, 2004

Wait, wait. Perhaps I misunderstand: being bipolar is now considered a "special need"? Harrison Bergeron, where are you?
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:36 AM on February 10, 2004

As discussed over on AskMe, we just got back from Disney World a few weeks ago. It seems to me the FastPass system would, in fact, address most of the problems faced by special-needs customers. We never waited more than one or two cycles for any ride, even the most popular ones. And I think late January is a perfect time to go.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:16 AM on February 10, 2004

Adamgreenfield, there are parents on that forum with autistic children, as I already stated. We talk about more than just bipolar disorder over there.

There are also quite a few with a dual diagnosis of autistic/ bipolar, etc.

I know there are some parents of autistic children here on the 'filter. Maybe one of them could weigh in here?
posted by konolia at 8:04 AM on February 10, 2004

Oh, not to say that bipolar, especially childhood bipolar, couldn't be a special needs issue in some cases.
posted by konolia at 8:05 AM on February 10, 2004

I know there are some parents of autistic children here on the 'filter. Maybe one of them could weigh in here?

Already weighed in twice on this thread, but I'm happy to do so again. My son is autistic. At ten years old he still wears diapers, he has no friends (nor, I think, does he have any concept of friendship), and he has virtually no expressive language. We moved here to Orlando six months ago because for some reason Walt Disney World seems to have a huge positive effect on him. We use the park as a giant therapy session, and he is slowly learning better socialization skills. We do get the Guest Assistance Pass for him, but generally use it pretty sparingly. If he is having a good day then there is no reason to bypass the lines, as part of the whole point of the visits is to teach him to behave properly - including being patient enough to stand in line for something he wants. Often he simply cannot stand in the lines, for a multitude of reasons. It's difficult to explain to anyone who has not dealt directly with autistic children, but when he starts to melt down it is nothing like a normal kid having a temper tantrum.

I just went back and re-read the snopes item, and my main complaint with it is that it is written in such a way that it appears that Walt Disney World has changed its policies, which is absolutely positively not true. The Guest Assistance Pass program at WDW is exactly the same today as it has been for several years. It is only the Special Assistance Pass program at Disneyland that has changed, and deservedly so.
posted by Lokheed at 8:32 AM on February 10, 2004 [2 favorites]

Another followup:

I just got an email from the folks at Bert's Big Adventure (who take terminally/critically-ill children to Disney) and they said that they were working directly with the Disney folks to ensure that their kids would get all the special needs passes that they need on their upcoming trip. Sounds like they were right on top of this issue and were taking care to make sure that their special guests don't have to worry about anything (for once, even if only for a weekend). From the sounds of it, Disney is going out of their way to make this an extra-special trip for the families involved. Way to go, Bert!
posted by aaaaa at 9:28 AM on February 10, 2004

Is the potential for abuse inherrent to the special needs pass itself, or is it a result of the policy which allows "their immediate parties" to also have the special access? I think it's the latter. It's one thing to abuse the system by faking a disability, but quite another to be normally abled and take advantage of Disney's (and not to mention, the patrons who have to wait five times longer in a 'regular' line) goodwill.

I wouldn't begrudge for a second special needs passes to anybody who legitimately needs one, whether it's an invisible or visible disability. However I fail to see why any more than one or two people would need to accompany a pass holder through the line. I was at WDW rougly a month and a half ago, and while the pass-abuse didn't appear to be all that rampant, I noticed at least two occasions where, say, grandpa in the wheelchair was tagged along with about 8 other family members, adults and children alike, right to the head of a line. I recall thinking that was pretty bogus, and though I didn't know at the time about the situation at DL., the opportunities to abuse the hell out of this policy seemed very obvious to me.
posted by contessa at 11:57 AM on February 10, 2004

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