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Disney World wheelchair tour guide for hire?

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Published: June 2, 2013 at 9:39 PM

When I heard the news about rich Manhattan moms hiring disabled guides and paying them $130 an hour so their kids could bypass the standard queues at Disney World, I said to myself "$130 an hour! Wow! I would do it too!" Then the ethical side of my brain told me "don't you dare!" Since the dark side of my brain always wins, I'm available. In the meantime, let's visit Magic Kingdom to understand why I am so valuable.

There are several rides where people in wheelchairs enter through the exit, thus bypassing the entire standard queue and reducing the waiting time to zero (plus some minutes to wait for the special vehicle). At It's a Small World I enter the standard queue for a short length, and then I go to the exit ramp, nice right?

At the Haunted Mansion I also enter the standard queue for a short length, and then I go to the exit where I have to wait for the cast members to stop the ride for transfer. The only bad thing about it is that I miss the stretch room part. But hey kids, you don't have to wait for hours, so stop crying while I count your mom's dough.

Wheelchair at the Haunted Mansion
Wheeling through the Mansion's "interactive" queue

Other rides where I enter through the exit are Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and Big Thunder Mountain. For the rest of the rides I use the standard queue.

Disney lets people in wheelchairs to enter the rides (through the exit) with a maximum of five family members (wink, wink). No wonder these moms pay so much money for their scheme. And by the way rich-moms, I'm just joking, so don't bother calling me. Tempting, but wrong.

Daniel Etcheberry writes about theme parks and disability issues for Theme Park Insider.

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Editor's addendum: When I worked in the Magic Kingdom, Disney hadn't yet developed the Guest Assistance Card [GAC] program, and admission policies for guests with wheelchairs were much more informal. In fact, abuse of what system existed probably was worse then, as I saw plenty of teenagers with "sprained ankles," riding in wheelchairs, trying to use their condition to get them and their friends on the ride with no wait.

What they didn't realize is that getting to skip the "regular" queue didn't mean that you didn't have to wait for the ride. It just meant that you got to wait in the wheelchair queue instead. At times, the line-up of wheelchair parties waiting to get on Big Thunder Mountain extended out of the unload area, leading to longer time waits than parties would have had in the "regular" queue.

Even if there wasn't a queue of wheelchair parties waiting, unload personnel still loaded wheelchair parties at their discretion. Sometimes that meant that a party would have to wait while we sent a train with an empty car first. Given that we only had a few seconds to unload and load a train before the ride would go down, not having to take a few seconds to unload the car first when it got back to the station allowed a wheelchair party several additional seconds to board. Other times, that meant we'd just keep a group of teenagers we judged to be faking it to wait a good long time to get their ride.

The inconsistencies led Disney to develop the GAC program (in the 1990s, I believe). Disney wanted to cut down on the abusive rental of wheelchairs by able-bodied parties and to create a more formal system that gave attractions personnel and guests rules about admitting parties with wheelchairs onto rides. (One of those rules was the six-person party limit.) GACs also can be used by people with other disabilities that don't require a wheelchair, under certain circumstances.

As Daniel alluded to, GAC or wheelchair access saves a party time only on a handful of rides in the park. Smart use of the Fastpass system and timing your attractions right likely would get you on more rides in less time, when you factor in the extra time needed to navigate the park in a wheelchair. And if you want to spend money to skip lines altogether at a Disney theme park, you can't beat hiring a Disney VIP tour guide. That's why I remain skeptical that "rich moms hiring wheelchair users to get away from lines at Disney" is a big deal. But with all the publicity about it now, I wouldn't be surprised to see Disney's legal team start demanding that GAC users sign a statement that they won't sell access to their party, under penalty of losing not just their GAC, but their Disney tickets as well. -- Robert

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Readers' Opinions

From Daniel Etcheberry on June 3, 2013 at 10:38 AM
Every time the system is abused, theme parks changes the rules that help the disabled for the worse. We all pay for others bad actions.
From Robert Niles on June 3, 2013 at 10:35 AM
Right. To clarify, a GAC is not necessary if you've got a wheelchair, and it's obvious that that's your accommodation need in the parks.
From Bobbie Butterfield on June 3, 2013 at 11:26 AM
Daniel's informative article and Robert's comments raise some interesting questions. What constitutes a disability and what constitutes abuse of the system? I am not in a wheelchair and am sufficiently able-bodied to play tennis but not sufficiently able-bodied to stand in line for extended periods to get on rides at theme parks. Due to a medical condition, I cannot stand for longer than 40 or 50 minutes without being in pain. Accordingly, when a park is crowded and the ride queues are exceptionally long, I either get a disability pass or a Fast Lane pass although I am leaning more and more toward the former because it's free and I can't always afford a Fast Lane pass. I got a disability pass on my last visit to Six Flags Great Adventure and had to wait my turn to ride just like almost everyone else (the ride ops gave me ride times and marked them off on the pass), the only difference being that I didn't have to wait in line. However, I was not permitted to use the disability pass to ride Kingda Ka because according to the folks in Guest Relations, the ride is A.D.A. accessible. So for once I didn't get to ride it. This is an instance of my feeling that I was discriminated against for NOT being in a wheelchair. OK, so the ride is wheelchair accessible but I'm not in a wheelchair and cannot stand for 90 minutes (this was the estimated wait time to get on the ride). I would have felt justified in renting a wheelchair so that I could get in line for the ride; at $25, it's cheaper than a Flash Pass. Is this abuse of the system? Disabilities come in all shapes and forms.
From Manny Rodriguez on June 3, 2013 at 3:05 PM
That s Wrong IMO if you aren't disabled (mental or Handicap) you shouldn't get the service of que skip.
From 85.150.173.168 on June 4, 2013 at 5:15 AM
For half a year now I rely on a scoot mobile. I can walk short distances but that's it. I used to go to comic con like conventions but standing in line to get an autograph or drawing from the artists became impossible. I can't work anymore and rely on help from my loving family to provide me food and clean my clothes. I won't get old and am in pain all the time. Because of that I'm also always tired. For the time I have left I want to enjoy my life as much as possible.
I love to visit Orlando and do the theme parks but was afraid I couldn't do it anymore. Last time (a few years ago) I could only go for a few hours each time. I didn't use a scoot mobile then. I didn't felt handicap enough or I was to proud to admit I needed assistance. My situation has become much worse but with my scoot mobile I'm still able to enjoy a bit of life. I'm looking forward to visit Orlando later this year. Can someone direct me to a site where I can get more information about doing these parks while being handicapped?
It's sad some people abuse the system. I hope one day they really need the system when their body stops working as it should, they deserve it. For the guy who was asking, if you are not sure you need the system, you probably don't (yet).
From 99.173.50.18 on June 4, 2013 at 6:45 PM
My mother has really bad knee problems and doesn't need a wheel chair but cannot stand in line for long. (at least not as long as Disney lines can get)

In the past we were able to get the card and use it only on the rides she really wanted to ride. We did Not use the card on everything. If the line was 20-25 minutes we wouldn't bother.

Now we went recently and they said she had to get a wheelchair in order to get the card, and that she would just have to do the regular line.

While I can understand there was abuse of this card, seems kind of unfair that we have to get a wheel chair. She just can't wait in line for too long.

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