Saturday, September 28, 2013

My turn to talk about Disney's new accessibility.

Dear friends have reached out to me by email, Facebook and phone this week wanting me to know about the changes Disney is implementing in regards to how my special family will ride their rides. I appreciate it. I felt your love and concern. And as a result, I have pondered. I have contemplated. Wade, the kids and I have discussed it. And I feel I need to respond. But perhaps not like you think I will....

Cause, what I  really want to do is tell you a story. Will you listen?

Benjamin woke up in the recovery room after his second surgery -- his first orthopedic surgery. He was wearing double leg casts and yet smiling at his Dad and I from ear-to-ear as the amazing three-year-old usually did. Dad asked him what he could do to help him feel better -- precious boy replied, "I want to go to Disney World."

Now, ya'll, we were in the midst of residency with less money then we had mouths to feed. A trip to Disney was not in our plans. But we began to scrimp corners. We began to save pennies. And we began to plan a trip to the most magical place on earth for the triplets' 4th birthday celebration the following year.

We started the trip with a visit to Cinderella's Castle. I told a sweet story about our time with Aladdin earlier this year -- you might remember. But what I did not say in that post was that Cinderella had torn her dress that morning and was not available for pictures. We were given a pass to return to the castle later in the day for a photo opportunity.

When we returned, the line was snaked back and forth, back and forth in the queue. We assumed our position in the back. The lovely Fairy Godmother saw us -- the boys were standing in their little standers beside Claire who was fully decked out in her Cinderella garb -- and motioned for us to come to the front of the line. Wade and I shook our head no. We did not want special treatment. She motioned again and this time the other families did this incredible, amazing thing: they parted like the Red Sea, urging us forward. I am bawling even as I type this. It was a moment that I will never forget. It was a moment where I realized sometimes my boys would receive special treatment and when it happens it is a testimony to human kindness and we should graciously accept it and feel the warmth of the blessing. It was a big big moment in my motherhood. It was a big big moment for my little family.

The whole trip was packed with magic. The boys had spent nine months in physical therapy preparing for the moment they would see Mickey Mouse. We entered the Animal Kingdom and immediately ran into Pluto. As I was packing up autograph books, my Benjamin disappeared. Disappeared. For about 30 seconds my heart stopped as I scanned the crowd for the little red walker. One glance in the direction of Mickey confirmed my suspicions -- Benjamin was exercising the very thing he had worked so hard to do. He was headed straight to Mickey Mouse!

It was not a perfect trip. We had not begun to use a wheelchair for either boy but Disney gave us a Guest Assistance Card that told ride-operators that the stroller doubled as a wheelchair. We had a third stroller for Claire and the boys' walkers were packed on top of the double stroller along with all the various and asundry supplies that three 4-year-olds required for a day in the park.

We were not without out moments:

We encountered people who wanted to fight us about the stroller. Not Disney employees, but guests of the park, who were angered by our use of a stroller instead of two wheelchairs. 

We had moments where waiting for parades and shows, we encountered other parents with special children, older than our's. And so received the hope that receiving a glimpse of the future offers.

We have been back often -- as anyone who knows us knows. We love the park. We love the magic. We love the way we can relax and enjoy.

But here is the thing: We love this because IT IS A PLACE WHERE WE HAVE EQUAL ACCESS. Please, read that again. And again, if you must. Because I am still the Mama shaking my head at the Fairy Godmother. I don't want or need special treatment. I just want to also enjoy the magic.

A few years ago, a well-meaning friend told me we were awfully lucky to be able to go to the Disney Parks so often. We hear this a lot, actually. And while we know it is true, we are blessed. I also know that this particular friend has a houseful of children in various sports costing a small fortune in fees. I desperately want him to hear my heart that we use all that money that we long to spend on sports-participation-fees to take our boys to a place where they can play too.

So these new rules. Well, I am not shocked. Remember when I talked about those wicked people  who felt the need to "hire" disabled adults to accompany them so they could cut the lines? I blame them. Disney had to respond. Disney had to try to fix a system broken by those who exploit it.

Will it make it harder for us? Possibly. Wade and I will be doing more running back and forth getting the appropriate ride passes for the kids. But know that we are used to hard --life with special needs is hard. And we don't go to Disneyland or Disney World because it makes special needs easy.

We go....and I'm sure ya'll can say this with me now, because it is the one place on earth where my boys can do everything your children can do. 

I am not looking for easy access. I just want EQUAL access. 

And when those special moments happen -- when people go out of their way to make magic for my family -- we will continue to be just as we were on that trip in 2001. Grateful.  Extremely, exceptionally grateful.