How I Scammed the Disney World Wheelchair Line System
My family spent our last day at Disney the same way we'd spent the first: at Magic Kingdom, the place I'd first discovered how easily anybody can get a wheelchair at Disney World. And yes, I'll admit it: that day, my 11-year-old self scammed the system. I pretended to be injured in order to get that wheelchair.
At first, it seemed like just a tiny lie, and with such an epic payoff; the lines for rule-abiding vacationers with two working legs that day were as long as I'd seen them all week. But then, we arrived at the Haunted Mansion. Maybe it's different now, but back then, the Disney employee took my wheelchair at the entrance to the front room of the ride. In order to get to the car, I had to make it down a long corridor on my own two legs. And I had to look convincingly broken while doing it.
As usual, my dad helped me out of the chair. I leaned on him, trying to replicate the hobbling movements I'd made a few days earlier, when I really did need his support to get around. But I also realized how silly this whole situation was, and like the kid I was, I couldn't stop giggling about it.
My dad was the first to realize the scene we were making, and barked at me under his breath with a harsh "Lean on me more." That shut me up, and I pulled it together enough to look up and see an entire line of people -- tourists and Disney employees alike -- looking at us with disgust.
I don't know if I can put into words exactly how ashamed I was at that moment. Two decades later, that scene is vivid in my memory. I think I was too young to fully appreciate how awful it was to pretend to need a wheelchair when you don't -- to understand, as much as any able person can, the difficulties of a life spent in a wheelchair and the way my behavior had disrespected those difficulties. I just remember feeling so embarrassed, so truly awful, and sorry to have dragged my father into the whole mess. When I think about it now, it feels almost like watching a particularly cringe-worthy episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, except it's starring my family, and also it's real, which makes it way, way less funny. To this day, my father and I have not spoken about it since. It was that bad.
So when I read these recent reports of wealthy families who use disabled guides to get themselves into the short lines, I'm not shocked. I'm not outraged -- how hypocritical would that be? It's not like I don't get the impulse.
But most importantly, I'm not jealous at all. These "Manhattan moms" who buy their way into the disabled line, if they really do exist, might have tons of money. But it can't buy them out of the shame of using a disability (real or fake) to cut in front of other families in line. And that shame stays with you, believe me.
Rent a wheelchair at Disney again? Without a legitimate injury, you couldn't pay me to take one.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.