Josh Levs, CNN - May 15, 2013
I've been seeing headlines about this for the last couple of days, and my main reaction has been a rather vague sense of "Oh, crap!" People are outraged, but in a weirdly unfocused way. What, exactly, is the problem here, rich people buying privileged treatment at Disney World, or misusing a kind accommodation meant for people with disabilities? Are we angry at the tour guide business that runs the scam, or at the disabled individuals who actually carry it out? Are these disabled guides amoral scammers making easy money, or victims of shameful exploitation?
Hiring yourself out to facilitate Disney tours for families actually sounds like a great job and a perfectly legitimate business idea. I'm sure there are lots of ways someone knowledgeable about Disney theme parks can make a visit smoother and more pleasant, doing anything unethical. And obviously, it's the wealthier families that are going to pay for a service like this. To me the problem is twofold ... It does abuse the intent of practices that are meant to accommodate actual visitors with disabilities, which erodes the benefit for people who can really use it. And I do get an ugly vibe of arrogant privilege from the whole thing. It seems like some of the clients think it's not just convenient, but high-status and cool to pull this little scam, with no apparent sense of guilt or ambivalence.
I wonder if the wheelchair using guides are real guides, or if they just tag along with families in order to fulfill the line-jumping function. A real guide in a wheelchair could provide a really positive experience ... spending a day with a wheelchair user who's organized, enthusiastic, energetic, and knowledgeable could give kids, especially, a more positive view of people with disabilities. But if their only function is to be a line-jumper, the effect would be quite the opposite, to the point of being dehumanizing.
It sounds like something that might have started out good ... a sound business model with a willing customer base, and an interesting employment opportunity ... but turned bad when everyone involved either chose to ignore a major ethical lapse, or was too dense to perceive it.