Disney World is investigating news that a handful of upper-crust Manhattan moms have a pricey, secret way to get their kids to the front of the lines—and it’s not by bribing Mickey Mouse.
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Instead, according to the New York Post, the moms pay $130 an hour to hire a disabled, “black-market” guide, who uses her position—sitting in a motorized scooter—to help entitled families gain special access to rides.
“On one hand, you can say she’s a great entrepreneur,” disability activist Kleo King, of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, told Yahoo! Shine. “On the other hand, she’s kind of pimping herself out. And it’s outrageous she would help people commit fraud.”
Though the New York Post has no on-the-record sources in its shocking report, Disney is taking the matter seriously, according to spokesperson Bryan Malenius, who told Yahoo! Shine, “We are thoroughly reviewing the situation and will take appropriate steps to deter this type of activity." He added, "It is unacceptable to abuse accommodations that were designed for guests with disabilities."
The scheme of hiring out the disabled guide was uncovered by social anthropologist Wednesday Martin, a former New York Post contributor who was conducting research for a forthcoming book, “Primates of Park Avenue,” due out in 2014.
“It’s insider knowledge that very few have and share carefully,” Martin told the Post. “So when you’re doing it, you’re affirming that you are one of the privileged insiders who has and shares this information.” You’re also getting a good deal, as VIP tours offered by Disney, which include speed passes, start at $315 an hour.
A tour company singled out in the story as the family's guide denied using a disability to bypass lines. Both the tour company and Disney have not yet responded to Yahoo! Shine requests for comment.
But according to the park's official policy, guests using a wheelchair or motorized scooter, plus up to five members of their party, can use auxiliary entrances “intended to offer guests in wheelchairs or with trained service animals a more convenient entrance to the attraction” and are “not intended to bypass waiting lines.”
Still, the Post also reported that urban mothers have asked Divamoms website operator Lyss Stern how they might make their children appear handicapped in order to gain special disabled access. “I never understood how parents could have a clear conscience doing this,” Stern told the Post. And one parent, Matt Montesi of Atlanta, added that, after his 11-year-old with ADHD was granted a three-day Disney handicapped pass with a doctor's note, he was tempted to sell it on Craigslist. "People will pay bucks to circumvent the lines," he noted.
Yahoo forums on the topic turn up people who claim to have seen folks fake handicaps for special access. Wrote one commenter, who identified himself as a Disney employee, "There are ways that do allow you to bypass the line but I am not going to tell people because there are people who already abuse it and that pisses me and my fellow cast member off. Those people should be ashamed of themselves for doing it to. They disgust me every time I see them come through."
Using a false disability claim to skip lines is not a new trick, unfortunately. A recent Wall Street Journal story documented the trend of travelers requesting the use of complimentary wheelchairs in airports as a technique of getting pushed to the front of security lines, only to leap up and sprint to their gates once they have clearance. “We call them ‘miracles.’ They just start running with their heavy carry-ons," longtime wheelchair attendant Kenny Sanchez noted.
It’s also not unheard of at other amusement parks, apparently. King told Shine that, just the other day, she heard about someone who borrowed his grandmother’s wheelchair for his day at New Jersey’s Six Flags Great Adventure in order to avoid waiting in queues.
“It’s outrageous. This practice is hurting people with disabilities who legitimately can’t stand in line, as the more people who do it, the more resentful people get,” King explained. “Disney World and other places can’t really ask people about their disabilities in order to curtail fraud, so they have to take people at face value. But anytime fraud happens, it hurts people who really need services.”
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