I’m going to dispense with the formalities. Since I’ve seen Businessweek refer to you as “Bob”, I’m sure you won’t mind me doing the same.
We need to talk, Bob. I don’t mean to be critical and, in fact, have held high regard for the Disney empire for many years. I’m sorry I never took the time to write before, to let you know what a great job you’ve all been doing. But I find myself compelled now to write to you, to talk about this new DAS (disabled assistance system) policy nonsense that replaced the GAC (guest assistance card).
Frankly, you’ve pissed in a lot of people’s Wheaties, Bob. I get it. No one likes to feel taken advantage of, and there were certain people out there taking advantage. Rich socialites from New York, who reportedly pay a service to secure them access to the GAC for their trip to the Magic Kingdom, is one example. They’re scum, Bob, and there will always be scum in this world. That’s just the cold, hard truth. And believe me when I say that people like that infuriate me – using their privilege to secure MORE privilege. It’s despicable.
But the changes to disability access? Frankly, they aren’t well planned. I know, I know, you’ve got the world’s best corporate minds running things over there (and paying them a lot to do it well, too), and you trust them. A man in your position needs to be able to trust the people that work for him.
But the thing you’re all missing is that a HUGE proportion of people that use the guest assistance accommodation are autistic. And if you know anything about autism, you should know that autistic people have major challenges with communication, social skills, transitions, and sensory input.
The new assistance program requires the person to check-in for a ride at a kiosk and receive the ride time (which is the amount of time it would take to stand in line), and come back to the ride at that designated time. In other words, bring the autistic child to the kiosk of the ride they are perseverating about, get a card that tells you to come back in 90 minutes, and spend the next 89 minutes trying to distract your autistic child with a churro, while they meltdown and completely fall apart because they don’t understand why they have to wait. Repeat this over and over throughout the day.
Does this sound like fun to you, Bob? Does it sound like a program that is actually providing any assistance to disabled people? It sounds like the exact kind of routine an autistic person would enjoy in Opposite World.
Yes, Bob, of course I am the parent of an autistic child, and that’s why I’m writing you. But I’m also writing because my husband and I just decided to save up for a Disney trip next year. Our son, now 8, is finally at an age where he could manage a trip and enjoy what we are doing. At least I thought so, until I heard about this new change.
I know that some people might think I have no right to complain because, as a corporation, you can do whatever you want to do. And that’s true, you can. But the point of a business is to produce a product that people want to buy. A business is only as good as what they offer their consumers. And I can guarantee that 1 in 88 consumers is not going to be happy with this thing you’re calling “assistance.”
Bob, let me tell you something else about autism. Our kids have to work so damn hard for every single thing; every skill they learn, every bit of support they get, every relationship they forge. My son already knows he’s different, and we’ve talked to him about autism. We’ve already heard the words, “I hate my stupid brain, I wish it wasn’t different.” If you’ve never heard those words from your child, then consider yourself lucky.
My son’s childhood has been spent learning social skills that come naturally to other children, and being evaluated so that schools can try to find the best way to support him so he can learn the materials the other kids learn easily. He’s been called weird, stupid, jerk, mean, and idiot. He may need some level of support for the rest of his life. Our daily life is complicated and messy, but full of love. And the one thing, THE ONE THING we thought we could do with our son was to take a trip to a Disney theme park and finally get a break by being able to move easily through the line and actually enjoy the experience. And let me say that my kid is easy compared to other children that have more severe challenges.
Once again, the privileged few have triumphed over the underprivileged masses. Those New York socialites may never get to run that scam again, but they’ll still get to go and enjoy the park, unlike many autistic kids that can’t now.
I’m hoping, Bob, that you can see the plight that autistic families are in and find another way to make this program work for us. I want to believe that Walt had a vision for the Disney parks that made it enjoyable and inclusive for ALL children.
We weren’t initially sure if we were going to Florida or California for our trip. It looks like the decision has been made for us. We’ll go to California so we can visit Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo. Oh, and our friend Dawn, whose family ALSO won’t be dropping a dime on Disney products or theme parks as long as their policies are exclusionary to the disabled population.