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Disney World vows action after report of wealthy hiring disabled to skip lines

By Josh Levs, CNN
updated 2:37 PM EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Disney will "thoroughly review the situation," a spokesman says
  • "Black-market guides" cost $130 an hour, the New York Post reported
  • Many are incensed by the idea, but some readers defend the alleged practice
  • Researcher says the wealthy found it a cheaper, better way to skip lines

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(CNN) -- Disney World is looking into reports that some wealthy visitors are hiring disabled people to pretend to be family members so that they can skip lines.

"It is unacceptable to abuse accommodations that were designed for guests with disabilities," spokesman Bryan Malenius told CNN Wednesday. "We are thoroughly reviewing the situation and will take appropriate steps to deter this type of activity."

Reports of the alleged practice sparked fury on social media, with some people calling the actions "crazy," "awful," and "despicable."

But others defended the idea, arguing it's a way to help some disabled people make good money.

The debate began with an article in the New York Post.

"The black-market Disney guides run $130 an hour, or $1,040 for an eight-hour day," the report said.

Social researcher Wednesday Martin "caught wind of the underground network" while working on a book about practices among New York City's Park Avenue elite, the Post reported.

"It really is happening," Martin told CNN's "Starting Point" Wednesday.

"I live among the privileged and powerful parents of New York City," she said, "and once in a while I come across a practice that's really surprising."

She added, "It's not my job to judge."

To Disney or not to Disney?

Disney for the '1%'

The Post anonymously quoted one mother as saying, "My daughter waited one minute to get on 'It's a Small World' -- the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours. You can't go to Disney without a tour concierge. This is how the 1% does Disney."

The woman said she hired a company called Dream Tours, the Post reported.

The Florida company did not respond immediately to CNN's requests for comment. But it posted a note on its website saying, "Due to inaccurate press and slander, Dream Tours is not offering VIP tours at this time. Our focus has primarily always been providing magical vacations for adults with special needs and helping their dreams to come true."

Ryan Clement runs Dream Tours, and Jacie Christiano is assistant director, according to the website. The Post reported that Christiano served as a tour guide for the mother whom the paper quoted anonymously. Clement told the Post that Christiano has an auto-immune disorder and uses a scooter on the job, the report said.

Disney offers official ways to avoid long lines

It's unclear how often the alleged practice may have actually taken place.

The theme park offers VIP tours and FastPass service allowing people to avoid long lines.

Martin said the wealthy people she spoke with found that hiring a disabled guide can cost less and allow people to skip straight to the front of lines.

Disney World has also been rolling out bracelets designed in part to inform visitors when it's their turn to come to a ride.

Downtown Disney to make way for Disney Springs

Anger erupts, but some defend the idea

People took to social media to express outrage at the idea of wealthy able-bodied people using money to take advantage of a benefit preserved for the disabled.

"This has blood shooting from my eyes this morning," Twitter user Kaneshow wrote.

"Wow, I can't even..." wrote Allison Cole.

And Twitter user Ruth summed up her take in two words: "Con artists!"

But others had a different view.

"At least they are sharing the wealth and providing the less fortunate with over $1000 a day to go to Disney World," one of the first comments on this CNN.com story said, from user "blindliberal."

And jessied44 wrote, "$1040 for a day spent having fun -- not a bad job. Pretending they are part of the family isn't a good example for the children, but providing work for someone who is disabled isn't a bad thing to do."

Disney brings more oomph with New Fantasyland

CNN's Dan Bailey, Steve Forrest, Meredith Richards, Christine Romans, and John Berman contributed to this report.

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