A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the reports of wealthy Manhattan families hiring disabled individuals to pose as family members so that the guests could cut in line at Walt Disney World. Among the many comments I received disagreeing with me was one dismissing the claim as an urban legend.
Thanks to NBC News — something you’ll probably never hear me say again — we have proof that such behavior takes place at Disneyland in California. Investigative reporter Jeff Rossen and his team went undercover to expose the black market tour guides:
The rides, the characters: Disneyland is “the happiest place on earth” — except if you’re waiting in those long lines, you and your kids, waiting hours in the heat.
So how did one family get to skip past everyone? They did it ride after ride after ride, escorted to the front every time.
It’s the outrageous business few even know about: families bypassing the lines by hiring disabled tour guides with special passes. At most theme parks like Disney, they have great policies: The disabled get speedy access to rides. But now healthy families are abusing the system, paying disabled guides to get them in with up to five guests.
On ads we found on Craigslist, tour guides brag about their disabled passes: “Let’s cut the Disney lines together,” “access to … special entrances.”
On the video — which you can view here — two guests who possess the special passes (and who both look quite able-bodied) took a producer and his family to bypass even the longest of lines at Disneyland.
First up was a guide named Mara, who said she got her pass after a car accident. “I’m here to make sure everyone has fun at Disneyland and we get on as many rides as possible,” she told us.
“And you have a secret weapon that’s going to help us?” our producer asked.
“I do. I have a special card that’s going to help us beat the lines,” Mara replied with a wink.
And she charged $50 an hour to do it.
Our second disabled guide, Ryan, charged our family $200 and got them right through another side door at Star Tours, an attraction inspired by “Star Wars.” “I cant believe we’re getting past everybody,” our producer exclaimed.
Fascinatingly enough, when Rossen confronted both guides in the parking lot, neither Mara nor Ryan expressed any moral qualms about their actions.
We met up with Mara in the parking lot. “You’re profiting from this,” we said.
“Well, Disneyland’s profiting a lot from all the people that enter,” she said.
“Will you continue to do this?”
“Yes, I will,” Mara said. “We live in a capitalist country, and I don’t feel like it’s morally wrong.”
“Disneyland’s profiting a lot from all the people that enter.” This is the same attitude that drives employees to steal from work, that motivated looters in times of crisis. Compare Mara’s unapologetic nature to Ryan’s cavalier, misanthropic attitude:
“Do you ever feel any pangs of guilt when you’re cutting past all of those people who are waiting in line with people who are paying you, who aren’t disabled at all?” we asked.
“It’s a moral question.”
“And that’s the question, you don’t feel morally –”
“I couldn’t care less,” Ryan said.
“About those people waiting in line,” we said.
Disney issued a statement and promised to crack down on violators:
We find it deplorable that people would hire the disabled to abuse accommodations that were designed to permit our guests with disabilities to enjoy their time in our parks. We have initiated a review of this abuse and will take appropriate steps to deter this type of unacceptable activity.
Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, said:
No one likes waiting in long lines, but exploiting people with disabilities in order to skip to the front is disgraceful.
It’s disturbing that nondisabled visitors would take advantage of these accommodations. This situation goes to show that money may buy a lot, but apparently civility and respect are not among those things.
Mara’s $50-an-hour rate proves that guests don’t have to live a fabulous uppercrust lifestyle to afford the black market tour guides, making exploitative capitalism affordable to all.
These scenarios at Disneyland, along with the instances at Walt Disney World, lead to may questions. Is exploitation acceptable in the name of capitalism? Where do we draw the line? Drug dealers and pimps are capitalists, but should we look the other way just because they possess that entrepreneurial spirit? Ryan hit the nail on the head when he said, “It’s a moral question.” He’s right, and I for one believe that any form of exploitation is wrong, capitalist or not.