The tale of Disney revoking their Guest Assistance Card program has been making the rounds this week, showing up in my feeds multiple times. Responses range from outrage at Disney to outrage at the frauds that abused Disney’s kindness. I see nobody addressing what I think is the root problem here: People who get outraged at being asked to prove they are disabled.
I have been partnered with a blind man for almost 23 years. When we went to amusement parks like Six Flags, we were sometimes able to go in through the exit line, although not always. We’ve almost always had a handicapped placard or plate for our vehicles. When we visited Disney World ourselves with our family a few years back, we did not always use the accommodation of going through the exit or otherwise bypassing the line. We saved that for times when we wanted to take Kender onto a ride, or when my husband might need special help getting on and off a ride safely. Other times, we waited in line like everybody else, just like I do not park in the handicapped spots when I don’t have handicapped people with me, even though I have permanent plates on the van.
My husband has always appreciated the extra accommodations. Imagine having to wait in those long lines at the parks with a blindfold on, so you can’t see all the TV screens, the extra pictures on the walls, the previews of the rides, etc. Now imagine parking in a crowded parking lot and then trying to find your car again blindfolded. Imagine going someplace where the parking is out in a field instead of a paved lot, and trying to walk blindfolded across the uneven terrain for a half mile or more to get to where you are going. Now that we have blind and autistic children as well, we appreciate the opportunity to request a front-row seat where our family will actually be able to see a performance, or to skip waiting in an hour-long line when it’s already taken an hour for us to coax our children from the entrance to that first ride.
We recognize that these accommodations are special and unique, that they are something not every can experience, and that workers and business owner have to go out of their way in order to provide them. So we have no problem with being identified as blind in order to access these privileges. If blindness is not enough in some circumstance, I would have no problem with being asked to provide proof of Kender’s autism in order to prove that he needs a particular accommodation. I will probably request something of the sort from Kender’s doctors to carry around with us once we get his dog, so that I can easily answer questions and prove our need for the dog. If somebody approaches us upset that we are using a handicapped spot when we do not appear handicapped, we have no problem explaining that we have blind people in the car.
I have seen around me in society, especially among many disabled people and their families, a sense of outrage at the thought of being asked to provide proof of need. The impression I get is one of, “How dare you ask me to prove my child is autistic?! How dare you ask me to prove I need this service dog?! You must take my word, or you are infringing on my rights!” This attitude has forced businesses to accept all claims of need and disability, no matter how absolutely ludicrous they are on their face. Because no questions are asked, it is possible for anybody to fake a disability and obtain the special accommodations for themselves and whoever is with them. Anybody can drive Grandma’s car somewhere and park in the handicapped zone even when she is not with them, because nobody will dare question them. Anybody can go online and buy a service-dog vest for their golden retriever, and nobody will dare question their ability to now take that dog everywhere.
All because the disabled were too offended at the thought of being identified as disabled.
Is it any wonder that Disney is discontinuing its previous disability pass program? It is public knowledge that people have faked disabilities in order to get the pass. It is public knowledge that people have hired disabled people to go to the parks with them and get them past the lines. Even the workers at the parks know this, but even when they know that somebody is faking it, they’re not allowed to ask. They’re not allowed to offend anybody by requiring them to prove they are disabled in order to access special accommodations for the disabled.
It’s time to stop taking offense and start standing up proudly. My husband is blind. My son is blind and autistic. More of my children have reduced vision and/or some level of autism. This is who they are. Why should we be offended at owning a part of ourselves? Taking offense at being identified as blind or autistic seems to imply some kind of shame about being identified as disabled. Why should we be ashamed of who we are?
The fact is that we are going to lose everything if we don’t own this. We need to stop getting so gods-damned offended at being asked for proof. We need to stop being so afraid of offending others that we don’t question even obvious abuses of accommodations. Go ahead. Ask me why I’m parking in that handicapped space. Ask me why my son has a service dog. I’ll happily prove it and explain.
And the next time I see somebody admit to my face that they are using Grandma’s handicapped plate to get special parking for themselves, I’m damned well going to call them on it. To their face.