Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
The news that the Disney parks are changing the way they provide help to guests with disabilities has been BIG news for families who have enjoyed taking their child or adult with disabilities to the magical kingdom. For many of us, having trained, helpful staff and easier, quicker access to the rides and attractions at Disneyland has been very positive for the whole family, especially for siblings of a child with serious disabilities. In fact, some of the best support groups I have ever participated in have been the ad hoc variety with total strangers while waiting in the disability line for a ride.
Up till now, persons with disabilities were granted a Guest Assistance Card, which granted access through the exit or alternative entrances, providing a shorter wait typically than for other guests. Due to the fraudulent actions of a few, including some super-rich, super-obnoxious families who bragged about hiring “black-market” guides with disabilities for $130 an hour, the executives at Disney had to come up with a new, more, fraud-proof system.
The new program which starts Oct. 9th,is called the Disabled Assistance System, and will require a digital photo of the person with disabilities (an excellent idea), and it will offer guests a return time for an attraction, one at a time, based on the current wait time (not such a good idea) and will be in effect at all Anaheim and Orlando parks
For persons with a physical disability and who use a wheelchair, or scooter, they will still be able to use the exit/alternative access to the rides. Disneyland, the older of the two parks, has fewer rides that can accommodate guests with mobility issues in lines, while the newer Disney World has many more ADA-accessible rides. Since our son, Danny, uses a walker/wheelchair and is mostly focused on the less popular rides such as Winnie-the-Pooh and Pinocchio rides, we aren’t too worried about excessive wait times for those attractions, but I know other parents are angry, especially those who have sunk major money into annual passes for the whole family.
As Jo Ashline of Special Needs Orange County posted about her 11-year-old son with autism, “Andrew is severely cognitively delayed. When he sees Radiator Springs Racers, all he knows is “OMG! MY FAVORITE RIDE! …LET’S GO ON MY FAVORITE RIDE, WAIT WHY AREN’T WE GOING ON MY FAVORITE RIDE?!!!!” He does not understand the concept of having to check in at a designated kiosk in order to get a designated time to return to his favorite ride on the planet, only to have to go back to another kiosk for another designated time for either the same or different ride.”
The Autism Society of Los Angeles issued a press release, expressing concern for the new policy. “For many families with children with autism, Disneyland is one of the few places of real joy. This is a result of Disney Parks’ wonderful accommodations for our families, said Judy Mark, a close friend and Government Relations Chair for the organization. “To take that happiness away would be tragic.”
So, I have a suggestion to the head honchos at Disneyland— why not let the kids/adults with autism set up a schedule on the day(s) they visit for up to 7 rides each day when they first check in at Guest Relations? They can be given a designated time for check-in at those 7 rides, and the fast passes for the general public can be adjusted to take those riders into account. A schedule can be printed out, and emailed to a smart phone. After those 7 rides, the guests will need to sign up at the kiosks for additional rides one at a time, but at least the person with autism will know with certitude exactly what order and when they will be going on their favorite rides. Less tantrums, less tears, more joy for all.
Now that would really be magical.
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September 17, 2013 | 10:55 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
The first time a total stranger handed me something “to give to your son” was at the Disney on Ice Show/Finding Nemo in 2004. Our son, Danny, was around 10 years old, and although small for his age, he probably looked too old for the stroller he was using at the time due to his motor disabilities.
This ice show was one of the first live shows he had seen, and he was smiling at seeing all his favorite fish friends skating around the rink. We had arranged for disabled seats, so he could stay in his stroller and have a great view of the action below. Right after the intermission, a middle-aged man wearing a well-worn Hawaiian shirt walked up to me and shoved the garish plastic clownfish wand at my hand, mumbling something about “your son” and quickly walked away before I could protest or even say thank you.
I didn’t know what to think. Did we look that poor? Was Danny looking off at another kid waving around the Nemo fish wand and that gentlemen had caught the eye glance? Then I realized it was given to us out of sympathy, wanting to do something, anything to make the moment better. I was too embarrassed to take it home, and left it behind in the arena.
Then, the older and taller Danny got, the more unwanted gifts came our way. Most often they were plush stuffed animals or candy, neither, which held any appeal to Danny. His big sister took the stuffed animals and I threw away most of the candy. Sometimes people gave us storybooks, which we kept around.
After a while, I came to call this the “Tiny Tim” syndrome from the Charles Dickens story and laughed it off.
On our way to tashlich at the Santa Monica beach a few weeks ago, we were slowly walking Danny out onto the sand, when a stranger shoved a glittery, girl’s T-shirt with a Harley-Davidson decal on it. We tried to say no thanks, but the woman was insistent. So we took and added it to the discard pile at home.
For all those anonymous strangers out there who are moved to hand us a toy or other item, please keep objects of pity to yourself and instead, just give us a smile.
September 10, 2013 | 10:02 am
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
How do we collectively get our community to align its high values with everyday practice?
A new poll released today demonstrates the big gap between what we desire and what we actually have when it comes to welcoming Jews with disabilities. Although 89% of the Jews polled said they “strongly supported” including people with disabilities in Jewish life, 19% of Jews with disabilities in the sample also reported that they have “been turned away or unable to participate in a Jewish event or activity because of the disability.”
Valuing inclusion of Jews with disabilities polled higher than any other question in the study, including the centrality of Israel, marrying Jewish, or raising kids to be Jewish.
Professor Steve Eidelman, a leading disability expert said, “While it is wonderful for so many Jews to say they value inclusion of people with disabilities so highly, there is a great distance between the words and deeds in our community.”
A total of 2,607 Jews participated in the online poll, and 8.6% of those surveyed reported having a disability and another 22.8% said they either had a family member or close friend with a disability.
The poll was not a random sample; subscribers to the Jerusalem Post and/or Haaretz were asked to complete the survey, along with students from JerusalemU and thru social media channels. Outreach was also conducted with Jewish special needs programs such as Gateways in Boston, Jewish Family Service in Houston and the Tikvah programs at Ramah camps around the country.
Shelley Cohen, co-founder of RespectAbilityUSA and president of the Jewish Inclusion Project said: “When a Jewish family is told that their child cannot attend a Jewish day school, camp or other program because they have a disability, the community risks losing the entire Jewish family to participation."
In a conference call this morning she added that we need to be proactive in getting our schools, synagogues and camps to be more inclusive of Jewish participants with disabilities, and that it doesn’t need to cost much money to accomplish that goal.
The poll sponsors are hoping that the Federation system does a follow-up random study on this topic and also that all Jewish institutions form Inclusion Committees to make positive changes so that all Jews can be included.
A Jewish Leadership Institute on Disability and Inclusion will be held in Baltimore December 1-5 2013 to train Jewish communal professionals and educators on the nuts and bolts of inclusion.
RespectAbilityUSA is a new national nonprofit, non-sectarian organization
whose mission is to:
- Reshape the attitudes of American society so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in and contribute to society, and
- Empower people with disabilities to achieve as much of the American dream as their abilities and efforts permit.
Based in Maryland, it was recently founded by chair, Donn Weinberg and president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.
JersualemU is an online portal for Jewish distance learning and was founded in 2009 by Rabbi Raphael Shore, They have produced four 10-hour, online multimedia courses, has graduated more than 4,500 students, and is responsible for over 100,000 hours of Jewish and Israel learning by students worldwide. All of their videos are captioned to make it accessible for the sight-impaired.