We do not want our Guests to be afraid

That’s how it should work.

Shannon Sullivan was surprised, then angry.

Not two months after 2-year-old Lane Graves was dragged into a lake by an alligator at a Disney resort and killed, she found herself face-to-face with a sign that made her deeply uncomfortable.

The Disney College Program bills itself as a “life-changing,” “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. Sullivan knew that she might lose her summer internship if she spoke out about this sign, but she couldn’t hold her tongue. She was willing to risk her spot in the program, one she quickly lost after she posted a photo of the sign to Twitter.

What did the sign say? “Alligators are friendly and cuddly, jump in the water and play with them!”? Not quite, but too close.

The sign read, in full:

If a Guest asks if we have gators in the water around Tom Sawyer’s Island (or any bodies of water), the correct and appropriate response is, “Not that we know of, but if we see one, we will call Pest Management to have it removed.” Please do not say we have seen them before. We do not want our Guests to be afraid while walking around Frontierland [part of Disney’s Magic Kingdom]. As a reminder, this is a serious matter. Please do not make jokes with our guests about this.

After the toddler was killed by the alligator. That’s the “correct” response how, exactly?

So Sullivan took a picture of the sign and posted it on Twitter, knowing it would probably get her fired. It did.

Her tryst with unemployment didn’t last long, though. That night, the Orlando Sentinel reached out to Disney with questions about the termination. The next morning, Magic Kingdom Vice President Dan Cockerell visited Sullivan himself to offer her internship back, which she accepted.

Disney removed the offending sign, claiming it was never authorized, the Associated Press reported.

The managers put up a lot of signs for day to day operational stuff, which don’t need approval from upper levels, and they considered this one such sign. I hope the upper levels at Disney have instructed managers to take safety more seriously than that now.

I have some experience of this, actually. I once worked at a zoo, which means I worked at a place where people could, if they tried hard enough, put themselves in danger from animals. Mostly that didn’t happen, but the potential was there.

At the time of Graves’s death, there were no signs warning visitors of dangerous animals. Three days after Graves’s death, the Walt Disney World Resort installed signs along the beachfront of its resorts that warn guests of alligators and snakes.

So Sullivan was right – and she got her job back.

Boy Scouts of America please note.

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