Recently, the New York Post and CNN reported that wealthy families were hiring people in wheelchairs to pose as family members so they could cut the lines at Disney World. All I could think was, you mean now I'll have competition?
I've used a wheelchair my whole life--I was born with spinal muscular atrophy--and though I have taken advantage of Disney's queue-jumping policy for my kids' sake, I've never taken money to pretend to be someone else's dear old brother/uncle/son (I'm too young to be taken for a grandpa, I hope). That doesn't mean I haven't thought about it. Why not use the Magic Kingdom's charitableness to recoup a little of its outrageous ticket prices?
Obviously, if the reports are true and some greedy soul is effectively pimping out my fellow wheelchair-users, that's terrible. These so-called tour guides should band together and pocket 100 percent of their ill-gotten gains! That, of course, is assuming they are genuine wheelchair-users and not poseurs.
Frankly, I've never understood Disney's policy. Why let people like me go first? I can understand not wanting the enfeebled to stand waiting interminably—after all, they might pass out, and think of the lawsuits that would ensue! But (a) I'm not standing; I'm in a wheelchair, a relatively safe and restful perch, and (b) I can't actually go on most rides anyway! With a few exceptions, such as "It's A Small World," they aren't wheelchair-accessible. So why should someone like me take up line space at all, let alone be fast-tracked to an attraction he can't participate in?
Nevertheless, rather than sit in the cool shade and munch snacks while my poor overheated wife and kids line up for hours in anticipation of the transitory joys of "Pirates of the Caribbean," say, I invariably join them, making sure to be seen by a park employee, who will promptly usher us ahead. I figure if nothing else I'll earn "cool dad" points. Then, at the boarding place, I feign disappointment when I can't climb into the little boat or cart or whatever, even though I knew I couldn't. I guess I'm afraid that if I don't look surprised and hurt, the Disney "cast member" will send us all back to the end of the line.
It may be shameful to admit, but taking advantage of one's disability—or rather, of other people's solicitousness, even pity—is one of the great benefits and joys of life on wheels. When I was a kid, before the disability civil rights movement ruined everything, I could sometimes get into movies for free. At major sporting events and Broadway shows, tickets often ran me no more than $2. It was charity, pure and simple, though I told myself it was merely because I wasn't taking an actual theater seat from another patron.
Still, when sweet old ladies on the street would offer to buy me candy or a cookie, it was decidedly creepy. I never once said yes.
For my family, this kind of cloying generosity was a great source of laughter when I was growing up. My older, nondisabled brother and I used to joke that if we were ever orphaned, or simply needed some extra spending money, we could clean up by begging on street corners. He would accost passersby while I acted as pitiful and, well, handicapped as possible, moaning and drooling and contorting my face. Not unlike Frank Langella's shouting "epilepsy!" to collect rubles from the unwary in Mel Brooks' "The Twelve Chairs," which we hadn't even seen yet.
Even while enjoying the laughs and the occasional freebies, I always knew it was wrong. I had to tell myself I was being treated like a movie star, a VIP, instead of someone so other that people had to step aside to let me pass.
Like it or not, I know now that it's worth paying full price if it means having equal access. This is why, after my last trip to a Disney park not long ago, I wrote a letter to management protesting the lack of accessible rides. Why should I pay full freight when I only have access to fewer than half the attractions? I was told that the company had done all it could to accommodate, and besides, just the pleasure of being in the Disney milieu was worth the price of admission.
Really? On balance, I can't help but salute those who would turn the Mouse's cockeyed compassion on its sizable ear. Besides, according to press reports the ring operates only at Disney World in Florida. I'm in Los Angeles. Disneyland in nearby Anaheim is ripe for the plucking.