May 16, 2013 Disney, the disabled and the 1%
A recent story from CNN recounts how a sliver of the economic 1% hire disabled people to act as part of their vacationing party so that the whole group can jump to the front of the ride lines. The practice is generally meeting with condemnation. I agree with the consensus, but it would be helpful to unpack a bit to better understand why most of us are ticked off at this story.
We should start by understanding the purpose of Disney’s policy of permitting parties with disabled member to jump to the front of the line. As anyone who has been to Disney knows, experiencing the parks requires a fair amount of physical effort. Much of the exertion occurs waiting in line shifting your weight left and right trying to stay comfortable. For the perfectly healthy, the lines and generally getting around can be a physical challenge so it’s easy to imagine the significant strain on someone with a cane, crutches or those friends and family pushing the wheelchair of a disabled guest. In light of the physical demands Disney entails, moving the disabled and his/her party through the lines a bit quicker seems a fair allowance. Additionally, guests with physical challenges already must pay special attention to navigating the parks and coordinating transportation further making the line accommodation a reasonable attempt to provide some balance in enjoying what the parks offer. Disabled folks along with their family and friends deserve to enjoy their vacations too.
With the reasonableness and purpose of the line accommodation established, let’s consider the practice of buying a disabled friend. Here we’ll get into the issue of what money should and should not be able to buy. Few would argue that well-off vacationers should not be able to rent larger, nicer lodging, eat at fancier restaurants within Epcot or fly first-class to get to Disney in the first place. Information regarding the various lodging and eatery options and their costs are made readily to everyone and access is provided on a first-come-first-serve plus willing/able-to-pay basis. This is how the free market works. Everyone knows, or at least can know, the options and pay or not pay as they see fit. If the well-to-do want the nicer things among these options, more power to them. Taking advantage of the line accommodation afforded to the disabled does not apply free market concepts because time is not for rent at Disney. Disney does have a fast pass option, but it’s just a form of virtual queuing available to all guests. Guests agree, overtly and tacitly, to participate in the aspects of the market that Disney makes available. Time is not one of these options.
Speaking of time, there’s also something that simply rubs people the wrong way when one group believes its time is more valuable than that of others. Again, within the free market this is true. An hour of Tim Cook’s time is worth much more than an hour of my time during business hours. But that difference disappears once Tim and I go on vacation or even when we just enter our home life for that matter. An hour of my time with my family and friends has no monetary value and neither does Mr. Cook’s. If you’re a well-to-do parent and think otherwise, then I suggest you set aside some of your significant wealth for the family counseling your miserable kids will soon need.
Now, let’s talk about Kant. One of the basic tenets of Immanuel Kant’s ethical philosophy is that people are to be treated as ends unto themselves and never as mere means. By renting a disabled person for line consideration, the well-to-do treat that person as a means to an end. As far as Kant is concerned, you may as well shove a fat person onto some trolley tracks. But the Kantian objection doesn’t end with the employer. It extends to the disabled as well because treating people as ends is ultimately inalienable – the disabled cannot reduce themselves to means either. Why can’t people reduce themselves to ends? Because the end becomes who they are and, in most cases, people would not want to be identified as that end. Ask a disabled person if they want to be mainly know as the disabled person. I think we all know the answer. So, why should a disabled person engaged in a situation reinforcing the very limited identification they would otherwise choose, in a Kantian sense, to avoid.
So, we see that the well-to-do renter and the rented disabled person are both acting poorly in the Disney line-cutting scenario. The former is advancing their own preferences and valuing their own time through means not generally known or available to all. The latter are reducing themselves to an identity they would, in nearly all other circumstances, take great offense towards and therefore is not theirs to be used to gain advantage.