I have read the new web page featuring the policy and services for guests with cognitive disabilities – new since October 9, 2013 – several times now. Each time, there are parts of this page that get my heart pumping, my blood boiling, and literally result in trembling hands due to the sheer indifference of the real struggles for individuals with cognitive disabilities. In my case, the journey has been focused on autism, but our entire community recognizes that there are many variables and deserving people that share similar needs for accommodations. We exclude no one, perhaps, because our entire journey has become a lesson in patience, endurance, compassion, and admiration for the differences present in our communities. This does not seem to be the case for Disney; as so many of us truly have a Disney disability grievance since the GAC changes took effect last week.
Now we have a petition that Kim McClain is trying to deliver. She’s made multiple attempts and no one at Disney HQ wants to accept the printed signatures. We have big media reporting commentary from Disney staff members that emphasizes they are working to provide the necessary accommodations, yet individuals report throughout all platforms of social media that they have been met by opposition, split-second judgments, and unwavering policy adherence – despite parent pleas for help and improved accommodations. Whom should an individual believe – the vague PR-speak of this seemingly cold corporation or the resounding anecdotal evidence alive & thriving on the internet today?
I decided that I could probably demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the new DAS by sidelong commentary to their newly published Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities. I’m focusing primarily on the “Trip Planning Strategies for Families of Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities,” portion of their guide. Here goes nothing…
Key Disney Suggestion, Create or Review a Visual Schedule
FYI, most of us special needs parents are all too familiar with visual schedules as a strategy. I’d like to know how we can predict the development of a reliable routine without the ability to schedule times at multiple rides? Your provided example #7 “Have some fun!” simply won’t cut it with children used to an itemized and predictable list of specific events. #8 “Get your favorite snack,” doesn’t necessarily bring the greatest vibes either – especially if your kiddo is on a strict diet due to milk protein, gluten, and food dye allergies like mine. Oh, and please never show a photo of a park food that any child with photo allergies may be restricted from. You’d be better off showing a photo of plain fruits or vegetables – for something as simple as this photo reminder of an appealing food that an individual can’t have may become a trigger for anyone struggling with both cognitive disabilities and allergies. There are A LOT of children on the autism spectrum that also possess food allergies to a wide range of foods!
Key Disney Suggestion, Watch Videos
I have an idea, why doesn’t Disney provide some realistic videos about the whole City Hall experience? This is where so many of us are met with judgmental opposition, long wait times, crowded spaces, and high frustrations! How about a video that features some judgmental park visitors muttering a stream of negative statements about your child’s non-obvious disability with total lack of regard for how their misunderstanding further elevates an individual’s sensory overload? Oh, let’s also see a video that shows rude cast members expressing doubt or attitude for your child’s disability since autism can’t always be seen, or diagnosed, at a glance. It generally takes several professionals of various medical disciplines to officially diagnose an individual with cognitive disabilities. These types of videos would be much more meaningful for our children than your standard issue Meet the Cast Members and Disney Characters.
Key Disney Suggestion, Study Location Maps
My question on this suggestion is where can I find a map that’s been updated with the official kiosk locations? Many of us would like full details before we even considered a trip and far too many rumors online suggest there are only three kiosks throughout both Disneyland parks. If this is true, it is not nearly enough to help those individuals that also cope with co-morbid disorders affecting mobility and endurance for physical exertion. How are we to manage the additional physical stress of returning to far away kiosks between every ride?! Why must these individuals, who once had the ability to wait at alternate entrances that were away from the overwhelming line crowds, now return to the regular line queue. This new process is very difficult and distressing for our cognitively disabled family members!
Key Disney Suggestion, Practice Waiting in Line
Wait, are you kidding me?! Now I gotta say that this one got me really riled up. Where does one go to practice waiting in line with the same potential for sensory overload as a Disney Park? Our entire journey has been a lesson in waiting – waiting for words and skills and focus and medical diagnoses and therapies and sometimes even compassion. A successful trip to the grocery store took two years of practice. We’re still working on tolerating warehouse-style stores like CostCo – despite our constant hard work and PRACTICE our son still struggles with wait times beyond 15 minutes for an exciting activity as well as crowded spaces. Despite our hard work practicing a Stay with Me program for the past four and a half years, our son still has a tendency to bolt and run when he becomes overwhelmed. Disney needs to recognize that there is only so much preparation and tolerance that can be managed ahead of time.
Disney Suggests What to Bring
Safety bracelets, nametags, and ear plugs/headphones are standard issue for many of us. Some of us even have GPS locators for extra safety from elopement. Here are some thoughts on the suggestions within this segment of Disney’s guide.
Keep the Guest Occupied with a Favorite Device
Do you realize that many parents must spend thousands and thousands of dollars on out-of-pocket medical and therapeutic services? This makes a device, like an iPad, a little too precious to risk losing or breaking just to pacify an individual that must now endure and indifferent and unfair policy that does not accommodate their needs.
Reinforcers for Good Behavior & A Sensory Toy
Many of us are reinforcement and distraction ninjas and most of us come to the parks with a full arsenal of preferred activities, comfort items, and sensory manipulatives. I’ve even brought GAK and I’ll tell you right now that no simple sensory toy, like your suggested, “stress ball,” is going to avert a meltdown triggered by sensory overload! The new policy does not permit the needed accommodations to reduce the likelihood of sensory overload – brought on by crowded spaces, long waits, traveling through crowds to return to your special kiosks – time and time again. Seriously, whoever wrote this part of the guide needs to spend some extended time with a professional Occupational Therapist to learn how devastating sensory dysfunction can be for so many with cognitive disabilities. This suggestion is pure insult!
I’ll close with the following thoughts on the new DAS. I think that for the time being, Disney is broken, will be the best explanation I can offer my five year old. It will buy a bit of time for our family while we await Disney Headquarter’s final response to the overwhelming negative criticism of their new policy. We will await the day, when The Happiest Place on Earth is no longer broken, for these vacations were pure magic – despite the social & sensory hardships – when the proper accommodations were in place. It was a small window of time each year, where our family could experience the joy of Disneyland and see the happiness bloom on our son’s face. It was respite from his 40+ hours each week of special tutoring, extra schooling, and necessary therapies that push him to become as high functioning as possible for a more independent future. He works so very hard and has since he was a mere toddler – does Disney really think the new system is fair? Do they really think our cognitively disabled children will reason with their logic? I can only hope that Disney management has a change of heart on this matter…