Hiring The Disabled: No Longer The Ultimate Fast Pass At Disney Parks

Flickr/ross_hawkes


Waiting in line at Disney Parks can be avoided by a number of legitimate strategies. Get to the park early, stay late, legally use a free system in place that speeds things up and more. But nothing quite beats the instant access to rides granted to the disabled, a practice that had wealthy park visitors hiring savvy wheelchair-bound “guides” to bypass everyone else.

Paying over $100 per hour — $1,000 or more for the day — able-bodied park visitors posing as relatives of a handicapped went straight to an auxiliary entrance reserved for those with special needs. “My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” said one mom in a New York Post article last May. Misuse of Disney’s Guest Assistance Card [GAC] program was so widespread that the theme park operator is discontinuing it in October.

In the new system, visitors with disabilities will be given an assigned return time equal to the estimated wait, one attraction at a time. Called the Disabled Assistance System [DAS], visitors with disabilities will still get “back door” access to attractions but will lose the time advantage they had under the old system vs. actually waiting in line.Does this sound a lot like Disney’s FastPass system? It’s not.

FastPass is a virtual queuing system that allows a limited number of guests per hour to go to the front of the line on certain attractions. Disability card users get a return time based on the actual wait time for the ride.

Disney's Line-Jumping For Disabled To Change Because Of Abuse

Extraordinary Journeys Offers Disabled Travelers A Chance To Go On Safari

Extraordinary Journeys offers safari for disabled travelersFor many travelers an African safari represents the ultimate escape – and for good reason. Visiting Africa can be a life altering experience, not to mention a once in a lifetime opportunity to see amazing wildlife in their natural environments. But for disabled travelers such a journey can seem like an impossible dream, after all the African bush isn’t exactly wheelchair friendly. But one adventure travel company is looking to change that by offering a safari option that is easily accessible, even for guests with physical limitations.

Extraordinary Journeys offers an 11-day itinerary to Botswana that delivers everything a traveler could hope for when visiting Africa. The tour takes guests into some of most impressive game reserves on the continent where they’ll get the opportunity to spot lions, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and dozens of other animal species. They’ll even go on a motorboat excursion deep into the Okavango Delta, a region that is famous for its rich and diverse wildlife. And at the end of the day, they’ll return to comfortable and luxurious safari lodges that have been designed to extend the experience even further.

But where this trip differs from most others is that it also caters nicely to travelers with disabilities. All of the lodges are fully wheelchair accessible, as are the 4×4 vehicles used on the daily game drives. Even the boat used on the Delta excursion is wheelchair friendly ensuring that no guest will ever need to be excluded from any of the amazing experiences this trip provides.

I have been fortunate enough to visit Africa on several occasions and a safari is one of my favorite travel experiences of all time. The fact that Extraordinary Journeys is making possible for all travelers to enjoy that experience is something that should be commended.

For more information on their safari for disabled travelers click here.

[Photo Credit: Extraordinary Journeys]

Outdoor Adaptive Sports Programs: Where To Find The Nation’s Best

adaptive skiingLike most of us, I didn’t fully realize the extent of the daily hassles and challenges faced by those who use a wheelchair, prosthetic, or other mobility aid until it became somewhat personal. I’m fortunate to have two people in my life who’ve been an enormous source of both education and inspiration, and I’m writing this piece because of them. A little bit of background is in order:

When I moved to Vail in 1995 to attend culinary school, I became friends with Darol Kubacz, a young Forest Service employee. Darol had broken his back in a motorcycle accident about 18 months prior; at the time of his injury, he was in the Army, working in Special Ops. He was already an experienced outdoorsman who enjoyed scuba diving, climbing, and hiking. Despite the physical challenges and fairly recent onset of his paralysis, he made a huge impression on me with his positive, non-defeatist attitude.

Darol’s job with the Forest Service entailed trail assessment for the handicapped, while in his personal life he’d already undertaken a number of adaptive sports, including the aforementioned activities he’d enjoyed prior to his injury. He’d also started alpine skiing (he broke his neck in a skiing accident in 2000, but fortunately sustained no additional physical or neurological damage).

Darol became my workout buddy, and he was the first friend I’d ever had who was in a chair. Through him, I learned a lot about what it means to live with a limitation. Mainly, he impressed upon me that, to a certain extent, it’s possible for humans to overcome physical limitations. I’m surprised he doesn’t have, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” carved into his chest.arm bikeToday, Darol works as a part-time adaptive hiking guide in Phoenix (he and his clients use off-road arm bikes),and is working on launching an adaptive paragliding program. He’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro –twice, summiting once– entirely under his own power, to raise awareness for his foundation, Freedom for Life. Following his ski accident, he has, he says, “Learned to embrace a more intimate experience with nature, that’s less about speed and adrenalin, and more about being in the moment.” Hence his passion for off-road bikes.

I met my friend Tony 12 years, ago, when I was living in Berkeley and working as a farmers market vendor. A loyal customer, Tony is also a documentary filmmaker and graphic designer. He’s quadriplegic, the result of a teenage diving accident. Tony has partial use of his arms, and until his accident, was a competitive surfer. Until a few years ago, however, he’d never been able to get back on a board due to some medical issues he was dealing with.

Today, a freakishly youthful 48, Tony is an avid surfer and skier (that’s him at Alpine Meadows, in the photo at the beginning of this story), thanks to several amazing adaptive sport programs. He says he’s in the best shape of his life, and his jones for salt water and snow matches that of any able-bodied enthusiast.

Living in the outdoor adventure mecca of Boulder as I do, I’m also in an epicenter of outdoor adaptive recreation programs. With my locale and both of these inspiring and incredible guys in mind, I wanted to provide a round-up of top adaptive sport centers across the country.
wake boarding
Adaptive Adventures
Based in Boulder, this is Darol’s preferred ski and summer program; he also co-produces a summer Moab Mania event for them. They offer alpine skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing, wake-boarding, kayaking, rafting, and cycling. Offers civilian, veterans, and kids programs.

Telluride Adaptive Sports Program
Darol and I both recommend this program (me, from living in Telluride and knowing some of the staff). TASP is very well-regarded, and offers summer and winter programs. This time of year there’s alpine, nordic, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice-climbing, Helitrax skiing, and snowmobiling. In summer, there’s horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, climbing, paddling, and camping.

Challenge Aspen
This prestigious adaptive ski and snowboard program based in Snowmass is for civilians with physical or cognitive disabilities. Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (C.A.M.O.) is for injured military; a new camp this year has been developed to help adaptive skiers learn more about competitive Paralympic training programs and interface with Paralymic coaches.
adaptive kayaking
High Fives Foundation
Tony is a huge fan of this Truckee, California, based non-profit founded by paralyzed former competitive skier Roy Tuscany. It’s dedicated to raising awareness and funding for “injured athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.” High Fives also serves as a resource center for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and pilates, gyms, and adaptive sports and equipment.

WORLD T.E.A.M. Sports
Chartered in North Carolina and based in New York, Darol recommends this athletic organization that offers adaptive and able-bodied events in mountain biking, rafting, cycling, and more. They also offer teen challenges.

They Will Surf Again
Tony has hit the waves with this Los Angeles-based program offered by the non-profit, Life Rolls On (LRO). Founded by quadriplegic, former competitive surfer Jesse Billauer, LRO raises awareness and funds for spinal cord injury (SCI) research, and offers bi-coastal adaptive surfing, skate, and snowboarding programs.

AccesSurf Hawaii
Honolulu-based adaptive surfing and other recreational water sport programs.
adaptive climbing
Wheels 2 Water
Tony recommends this adaptive surf and scuba diving non-profit in his hometown of Huntington Beach, California.

Wheels Up Pilots
This research and instructional paragliding program in Santa Barbara is highly recommended by Darol, who is about to become one of the first two U.S.-certified adaptive paragliding pilots. Open to civilians and veterans.

Freedom for Life Off-road Arm Biking
For guided hikes in the Phoenix area, contact Darol Kubacz, darol@fflfoundation.org.

[Photo credits: adaptive skier, Tony Schmiesing; all others, Adaptive Adventures]

Abusing Wheelchair Privileges To Cheat The Airport Security Line

A few weeks ago, we told you about TSA screeners who abused their role in the security screening process to steal from passengers.

Now, we’ll highlight an instance where passengers are (seemingly) gaming the system. A recent New York Times article discusses a rise in able-bodied passengers requesting wheelchairs and speculates that they may be exploiting assistance reserved for disabled guests to speed through security or to enjoy the privilege of being the first to board an airplane.

Although no hard data is available to prove that this phenomenon is actually on the rise, the article uses anecdotal evidence – such as passengers who can lift heavy luggage after going through security or those who use a chair to board the plane (where they claim the perk of being on first) but not to exit the aircraft (where they’ll leave last).

The wheelchair pushers don’t seem to mind, either. Most earn the majority of their income from tips, and when business is up, so is pay.

Others aren’t so happy. Peter Greenberg, the Travel Editor for CBS News, was quoted in the article as saying that this technique may backfire. “I’m a big believer in karma,” he said. “You don’t put on a dress when the Titanic is going down so you can get in the first lifeboat.”

Just like those who use handicapped tags to park in spaces not designated for them, we’re inclined to agree, but we’d like to hear from readers.

What do you think? Is there abuse in the system or are passengers simply more inclined now to exercise their right to a wheelchair?

[Flickr via Peter Kaminski]