People who aren’t disabled see disabled people as tragic. If the odds are ever going to get better in the full-inclusion sweepstakes, our vast community has to figure out a way of driving a sharp wedge between the word “disability” and the perceived connotations of heartbreak, pain, suffering, weakness, humiliation, flesh eating bacteria, and there-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I looks at the mall. Sure, all of those things happen from time to time, but they are only a small part of a much bigger, full-color snapshot. They don’t show the exuberant, light-hearted side of our lives.
What better way to do that than a disability-centric theme park?
Welcome to DISLAND.
Knott’s Berry Farm took a working berry farm and made it into a destination vacation. The Holy Land Amusement Park in Orlando, Fla., is the Bible in dazzling papier mâché, with exhibits like an illuminated cross and a visit to Calvary’s Garden Tomb. We have the demographics to go toe to toe with either. One out of two people in America knows a relative or close friend with a disability and would love to treat them to an entertainment experience of a lifetime. Disland could be anywhere where the land is cheap, maybe way outside of Vegas, and anywhere you can get to by an Access Van. It’s got to be big to draw the crowds.
As you walk into the entrance of this fully-accessible wonderland, you encounter a 20-foot high animatronic of FDR in his customized chair, an awe-inspiring behemoth who both speechifies — “The only fear we have …” — and artfully directs you to the restrooms and gift shop.
Before the big fun, there is a quasi-educational pavilion displaying things like the history of the wheelchair — “Look, Mommy, that one is made of thatch!” — and a scale model of the first independent living center, also a great place to meet and greet friends. For a small fee, a computer whiz will Photoshop your picture into the signing of the ADA on the lawn of the White House Rose Garden. Your grandkids will never know.
Then it’s on to the first big ride — a vast rink full of bump-em chairs, motorized wheelchairs with big fenders that you can repeatedly slam into a stranger and not get slugged. The kids love this, the pace is fast and furious, and only occasionally does someone get really mad and/or hurt.
Next, queue up for the Wheelchair Drop — 10 stories straight down on a chair equipped with giant balloon tires for bouncing all the way back up!
To take a break from all of this excitement, the folks will love the gag photo booth where you stick your head into a cardboard cut-out of something silly. At Disland, the cut-outs would include two mountain climbers in chairs at the top of Mount Everest, waving to their Sherpas, or in the classic barnyard motif, Mom and Dad in wheelchairs, overalls, and corncob pipes, milking a cow. These you will treasure for a lifetime.
The big draw at Disland is something rarely seen outside of the United Arab Emirates: a 1,000-foot, indoor ski slope of man-made snow where the whole family can fit into a massive wheelchair fitted with skis the size of diving boards and tear downhill like you were in the Swiss Alps or Splash Mountain, minus the cold, airfare and splashing, of course. Like Epcot Center, it brings the world to you so you don’t have to bother going there. Under construction is a wheelchair tour of a mini-sized India, since the real India is laughably inaccessible.
Of course, you can’t leave without a trip to the gift shop. Check out the zany bumper stickers, from the G-rated “Can your grandma do a wheelie? Not!” — to the racy “Wheelchair users do it ride-em style” — to the blatantly political — “If wheelchairs were outlawed, only welfare deadbeats would have wheelchairs.” Don’t forget the “Murder Ball” home kit or the disabled parking space tire-deflator for cheaters.
Next time you see a wheelchair marathon race on TV, the winner will bust through the tape, pull up to the cameras, and shout, “I’m going to Disland!”
See you there!