Dear gentleman at the Aquatica Water Park:
At about 1:15 PM today you saw my 11-year-old daughter run up the stairs of the Tassie’s Twister ride with two of her friends and beeline straight to the head of the line. You called her out for cutting the line. I understand why you were upset: line cutting is not cool, and you purchased a quick access wrist band after all. But then my daughter showed you her RAP (Ride Accessibility Program) pass and explained that she has a medical issue that entitles her to go to the head of the line. You were still upset. She did not owe you an explanation – if park staff issued her a pass, this means she qualifies for it, and it gives her no joy to discuss her medical condition with total and unsympathetic strangers. However, she still tried to politely explain that she has Type 1 Diabetes. You proceeded to sarcastically tell her that she was still able to run up the stairs just fine. She tried to defend herself but you were mean. She was upset enough that she chose to turn around and leave.
What you do not know, and did not care to even try to understand, is that diabetes, water parks and long lines in heat do not mix. My daughter can be in a real danger of experiencing low blood sugars. Swimming and playing in water makes her BG plummet more than any other activity. Add heat and waiting, and it’s a ticking time bomb. She does a great job of managing her BG, but things can unravel very quickly and unpredictably sometimes. That’s just the nature of T1D. My daughter normally carries a backpack with all emergency supplies with her, so that if she starts to experience symptoms of low blood sugars she can test and treat. However, this is a water park. She is running around in a wet swim suit. She cannot simply carry her supplies with her. Where could she even leave her backpack before going down the slide/water ride and how could she pick it up afterwards?
My daughter has been living with T1D since age 8. We’ve been to a number of theme parks in the three years since her diagnosis, and even though she is usually eligible for a disability access pass, we have never before asked for one. For starters, we have no tolerance for long lines. But even if she’s stuck in one, she has her supplies on hand, and it is easy to step out and take care of her medical needs when necessary. As I explained earlier, it’s both not so easy and more dangerous in a water park. I did not want to hover over her all the time – she wants to be a normal 11-year-old and run around with her friends. I am sure you remember being 11 and enjoying your budding freedom, and you’d agree that she deserves to experience it too.
So for the first time in three years, I asked for a disability access pass, a pass that gave her front of line privileges on four rides in the water park. This gave her safety. Safety that she should not be stuck in a long line without any of her supplies, feeling sick and not being able to take care of a potential medical emergency.
The disability created by Type 1 Diabetes is invisible. Aside from the cyborg parts and various diabetes paraphernalia, you see nothing. Yes, my daughter can run up the stairs without problems. Yes, she looks fine. And yes, she has a real, serious medical condition that creates a real disability. For the most part, she lives a perfectly normal life. However, there is a lot of diabetes management work that happens in the background that allows for this normal life to happen. And at times she has to deal with real limitations.
My daughter did not look right when she came back to me. When I asked what was wrong I fully expected her to tell me she was feeling low. Instead, she proceeded to tell me about you, what you told her, and how you treated her. She was hurt by your words and taken aback by them. So far, we’ve only encountered supportive people. Sometimes they were uninformed, but always kind and willing to listen. You were judgmental and mean. Sadly, there are many people like you out there. I’ve heard all kinds of stories from other people with diabetes, so I knew it was just a matter of time before my daughter got her first dose of harsh reality. People with diabetes are routinely the butt of everyone’s jokes, the recipients of unsolicited advice, the targets of insults and ridicule. This was unavoidable but knowing it did not make it any easier.
I gave my daughter a hug, told her that I was sorry, and told her that unfortunately there are lots of people like you out there – people who judge quickly and are not interested in learning or understanding; people who, despite not knowing anything about diabetes, feel compelled to make hurtful comments about and to people with diabetes. I told her to try to shrug it off and not allow mean people and comments to ever, ever ruin her fun. Then I sent her back to the ride, reminding her that you must have been long gone from there and the coast was clear. My girls is a tough cookie. If having diabetes is not bad enough, she has to develop thick skin and learn how to deal with the deluge of ignorant and hurtful comments. After a few hugs, some venting, a show of support from me and her friends, and a blood sugar check, she went back to having a blast.
In the highly unlikely event you are reading this, let me leave you with a few parting words. You will undo all the wrong you did by learning more about Type 1 Diabetes and educating others about it. Also, please understand that just because you cannot see someone’s disability, it does not mean that it does not exist. And if someone tries to explain it to you, please listen and refrain from judging. If you think someone is cheating and taking advantage of a disability pass system, address your concerns with a staff member. And please be kind. All of us can surely use more kindness in this world.