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Bob Iger, Let’s You and Me Have a Chat

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Bob,

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.

Regards,

Flannery

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About Flannery

Kid, husband, dogs, my mother, full-time job, maximum stress, minimal relaxation...sooner or later I had to vent. AND we moved from California to Texas. I could start a whole other blog about that.

8 responses »

  1. My in laws live in Florida and have been pressing for us to visit cause they want to take our daughter who is four to Disney world. I never knew about the assistance thug they offered so I have dreaded going cause I know my daughter would have issues. And she is actually not nearly as bad as most ASD kids. It doesn’t help that I suffer from my own mental health and anxiety issues. I don’t need nor want to go on the rides but I fear having to deal with the meltdowns. But yeah now I will be pushing this off even more. Which I am OK with since I have huge issues with my husbands step father and his mother who are in denial that their only granddaughter is autistic.

    Your point about the privledged running it for the all is spot on.

    Reply
  2. learningtoliveoutsidethebox

    We live within 5 miles of a theme park and the immediate board pass was the only way we were able to survive it. My son is a sensory seeker. He loves the feelings he gets rushing down a coaster, swimming in the water, riding the train (his perseveration of choice.) It saddens me that something we were hoping to start planning for may be forever off the table.

    Reply
  3. Preach, sister! I can’t even imagine trying to go to a place like Disney World without a better system in place. Seriously, we’re nervous just about taking our son to his school’s fall carnival next week!

    Reply
  4. Knox’s has the same program as Disney so don’t waste your time there either!

    Reply
  5. Out son has autism, he has a 42 hour week since he was three. He has melt downs over everyday occurrences thats why he has therapy 20 hours per week . If it were as simple as “teach them to wait” we would be in heaven if it happened. AND not mind the lines!! This is a disaster and nothing about it sounds magical for our boy, who is now almost 6, very strong ); he will not understand what we are trying to explain to him. It will be meltdowns on top of meltdowns.

    Reply
  6. Just wanted to let you know that as of a few months ago (we went in August) that Legoland in Carlsbad (40 miles north of San Diego) had a pass exactly like the GAC. We got to enter through the exit and get right on (for the most part…maybe had to wait one go round). It was wonderful! They were so nice about it. I took documentation but they said they didn’t need to see it. It was probably pretty apparent since my daughter was jumping around, flapping in excitement. If you plan on visiting, you might want to call ahead to make sure they still offer those accommodations or if they’ve followed Disney’s lead and done away with it.

    Also, we have a yearly membership for our entire family to the SD Zoo. I told them that our daughters were both autistic and they put a special emblem on their cards. This means that they each get to take one adult/caretaker with them for free. It’s great because if my husband can’t go with us due to work, I can take our respite worker or my mom, etc. to help me with the girls. I would never be able to handle them both by myself, especially now that I am pregnant. Not sure if they do it for one day passes but I would definitely ask, as you or your husband would get in for free as the caretaker.

    Blessing to you and your family! I hope you have a wonderful, fun vacation. I have the pleasure of living in Carlsbad, CA so I know how beautiful Southern California is! There’s really no place like it!

    Reply

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