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Theme-park cheaters take toll on disabled kids

Nobody likes lines, but for people with physical disabilities or chronic illness a long wait can be a severe hardship. Recognizing this, the Walt Disney theme parks have long provided special accommodations for handicapped guests, including “guest assistance cards” that allowed families with disabled children to skip the lines and be escorted to the front.

Unfortunately, this act of generosity was being abused by able-bodied swindlers. Investigative reporters at the New York Post and NBC’s Today show documented organized scams, in which parents hired rogue “guides” with disability passes to pose as family members, enabling the whole group to cut to the front. “I have a special card that’s going to help us beat the lines,” one of these black-market guides, who charged $50 an hour and advertised on Craigslist, says on camera in the NBC exposé.

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Because their guest assistance cards had been corrupted, Disneyland and Disney World had little choice but to end the courtesy. Instead, visitors with disabilities will be issued passes designating a specific time for them to return, when they will find a shorter wait for the attraction in question. It’s a noble attempt by Disney, whose track record of aiding people with disabilities, sickness, or special needs is exemplary. Nonetheless, it will send an unfortunate message to children with special needs that society won’t accommodate them in real time.

But worse still is the message that parents send to children by hiring guides with guest assistance cards to pose as family members: Gaming the system is fine, these parents are effectively teaching, if it can get you into Space Mountain or those whirling tea cups ride ahead of everyone else.

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