Monday, June 25, 2007

Wheeling the World

Ever since I broke my foot back in April, I was apprehensive about this year's trip to Disney World. Each year, we typically walk about 7 miles a day. I knew trying to keep up with this demanding schedule might not be possible, and the strain on my foot would be terrible.

After many trips to the orthopedist (and quite a lot of money), I determined that I may need to use a wheelchair. One of the amenities Disney hotels offer is complimentary wheelchair use. We were staying at Port Orleans French Quarter, and I called them before our arrival to see if there would be a wheelchair that I could use for the duration of our stay. The desk clerk told us that what wheelchairs they had were available on a first-come, first-served basis, and they could not assure me that one would be there when I needed it. So, I decided to rent one from an outside company that the desk clerk recommended. The company told me the chair would be delivered to the resort the evening before we arrived, and would be picked up there the morning after our departure.

I intended to use the chair as measure to help save me any more wear and tear on my foot, but all too often people rent wheelchairs at Disney World so they can avoid standing in long lines. Disney World often has separate, shorter wait-time lines for handicapped people, and the abuse of these lines has prompted stricter measures about wheelchair use. People who have actual need of the wheelchairs should bring a doctor's note to Guest Services at any of the parks, where they will be issued a Guest Assistance Card. This card will allow them "front of the line" access. I did not need this kind of assistance, but able-bodied people will sometimes rent a wheelchair in order to try and get to the front of the lines.

While the wheelchair was a great help in keeping me from further injury, I was very distressed at the way the general populace treated wheelchair occupants. It seems that most people at Disney World are so self-absorbed that even bothering to check their surroundings is a major task for them, and to have to keep an eye out for wheelchairs is more than their overloaded brains can deal with. While I always have a great time on our trips, the one thing that I never enjoy about the yearly jaunt is the crowd factor. I wouldn't say that I have claustrophobia, but we sure aren't friends.

Now, being injured, I had been rather paranoid about getting kicked/knocked into/stumbled over in the hurt foot, and I was especially vigilant while at Disney World because I know the propensity for people not paying attention to anything around them. I can't tell you how many times people stopped dead right in front of me, nearly walked into me, or even actually collided with me. The staff at Disney was great -- as they always are, but regular people? Completely unaware of anyone but themselves and so focused on their own enjoyment that they cannot spare a glance for anyone else. (This was also reinforced by the sheer number of times that we saw small children, alone and crying because they were lost. You would think that parents would keep an even closer eye on their small ones in such crowded conditions, but no. They don't. There was even a case in the Orlando Sentinel that happened WHILE WE WERE THERE where a couple was arrested because they left their small child in a stroller in the blazing sun for about an hour while they rode Pirates of the Caribbean. When the child was discovered by WDW security, she was lethargic and hard to rouse due to heat exhaustion.)

At any rate, I have a new respect for those who are in wheelchairs. They say you never really know a person's struggle until you've lived it yourself, and in this case, it's true. On one hand, I knew that being in a wheelchair was a challenge, but knowing and experiencing it for yourself firsthand are two quite different things. I have promised myself that I will be much more aware of my surroundings, and for those with disabilities. I can only hope that living it, even for such a small amount of time, will make me a more compassionate person in the long run.


DevilMacDawg said...

First, I have to say that I'm thrilled that the Disney "Cast Members" treated you well - it's always a pleasure to go there, because I've had to deal with precisely ONE individual who wasn't a completely charming person.

Second, about the wheel chair - while we lived in Florida, we went to Disney fairly regularly - they have these outrageously cheap resident annual passes you can purchase and then you get resident rates on the hotels. So going to Disney for the weekend for the family costs like $200 or something, before Food and Junk (another $200!).

There were always people who abused the wheelchair/disabled privileges. One time, we made a specific wait in line to get Miss M into the front of the Monorail, only to have an obnoxious woman wheel up and tell us she had dibs because of the wheelchair. The driver, fortunately, stood her down on the issue, and told her to wait until the next monorail came along.

But I think part of the issue you faced is that so many people have abused, for so long, that there are those who assume (unfortunately, like I did) that healthy-looking folks in a wheelchair were taking advantage.

purple_kangaroo said...

How awful about the rude/inconsiderate people. I'm glad you were able to navigate without hurting your foot, though.

Marni said...

Dad rents the electric carts sometimes and we run into the same problems (no pun intended). People are such jerks.

Makes you wonder about the future generations doesn't it...

ccw said...

Sounds like a true eye opening experience.

It's good to know that the WDW employees are not part of the problem.

jo(e) said...

I was in a wheelchair once for four weeks, and it really made me see things in a new way. I so agree with what you are saying.

Miche said...

So glad you were smart to pamper your still healing ankle/foot!

As for regular folk being "Completely unaware of anyone but themselves and so focused on their own enjoyment that they cannot spare a glance for anyone else," I wish I could say I was surprised. It feels like such a huge swath of the population today are like that. *sigh*

My impression is that you're a very compassionate person to begin with ... is it even possible for you to be more so?