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Celebrating Autism Awareness with Jackie Psarianos from The Autistic World of Disney

Our celebration of Autism Awareness Month and Disney continues with this Guest Post from Jackie Psarianos:

Andrew P.

My son is primarily non-verbal. It is difficult engaging him in any conversation. He does not like to be touched or hugged.

Andrew is fifteen with a developmental age of three. He loves the movie Toy Story and the Disney characters Buzz Lightyear and Woody. It is for that reason we love Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ attraction ‘Toy Story Mania’.

Every time we vacation at any of the Disney Parks we see great social and developmental improvements. Andrew comes into his own and into our world many times during those vacations. That is what keeps us coming back time and time again, coupled with Cast Members anticipating our needs, makes for a positive and memorable experience.

One visit to Toy Story Mania stands out in my mind, Andrew was thirteen at the time and up until then I had never heard any terms of endearment or had any hugs from him.

We were in the attraction vehicle and Andrew’s aim at the targets was incredible, he was pointing and shooting at all the dishes on one screen, breaking them one after the other and becoming increasingly engaged by the minute. His excitement and enthusiasm kept my attention as I had not seen anything like this ever! My mind was reeling because of this joint attention, his hand eye coordination and best of all, his more than appropriate responses to his achievements.

Andrew that day scored 89,000 points, a personal best! I couldn’t wait to get out and tell my husband about all of this.

What a huge stride Andrew took that day, it was massive and I was so excited.

Upon exiting the attraction, Andrew turned to me and said, “Mummy, give me a kiss!”

I was floored! Not only did I give him a kiss, but I got a great big hug out of him for the first time in his thirteen years. For the very first time!

Imagine my delight. It’s a moment I will never ever forget and will hold close to my heart always.

Andrew came back to us if even for a few minutes.

I am so grateful for that special, special moment.

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Thank you for sharing, Jackie!

This blog series is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter.

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Please support the publication of this book!

Thanks,

Kathy

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Autism Awareness Month Continues with Guest Tricia Ballad – 067

autism-awareness

We continue our month-long celebration of Autism Awareness with today’s feature. I’m chatting with Tricia Ballad, a published fiction author, Disney fan and Autism Mom. We’re talking about her family’s recent trip to Walt Disney World and she introduces me to a workshop she’s created for parents of children recently diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder and other Autism-related diagnoses.

The Autism Parents’ Starter Kit includes a series of video discussions on parenting a child with autism, printable resources, and an interactive discussion area where parents can ask questions and connect with other parents. It will be available April 15 on Udemy.com.

Tricia has generously offered a 50% discount to the Autism Parents’ Starter Kit for Special Mouse listeners! You can access it HERE.

Mousekeeping:

The Special Mouse Community will be having its first Disney Parks meet-up next month at Walt Disney World! We’re meeting at the Contemporary Resort’s Contempo Café on Friday, May 22 from 4 to 6 PM. Yes, this is the same day as the Disney Side 24-hour event at the Magic Kingdom! So, if you’ll be up before dawn to attend that event and you find yourself starting to drag just a little in the late afternoon, head on over to the Contemporary and hang out with us in the air-conditioning for a while. I would love to meet you in real life!

Second,

Thanks to all of you who have supported the Kickstarter crowdfunding project I’m running, with either a pledge or a share on social media or in many cases, both. This project is to help publish my upcoming book, Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide! A book which, by the way, I am really surprised hasn’t been written by anyone yet, considering that there are soooo many families with kids on the Autism Spectrum that love WDW or are anxious about visiting WDW — or both!

Twitter Post

You know, I never really talk about it here on the show, but it does cost a bit of money to produce and deliver a podcast like this one – which I love doing and will always provide to listeners free of charge – but, it doesn’t leave me with a lot of extra money lying around to pay for the expenses involved in self-publishing a book!  There’s stuff like professional editing, and the cover art (which, by the way, was created by the very talented Mr. Danny Lawless from the Magic Our Way podcast – shout out to Danny!) and the book will need to be formatted for print and indexed, etc. So, it actually costs several thousand dollars to do this thing!

The wonderful thing about pledging to help with Kickstarter is that instead of just sending me, Kathy Kelly, a check for 10 or 20 or 50 dollars, you will earn some pretty cool rewards for backing the book!

There’s everything from Safety ID Stickers for Kids, created by an autism mom, to sensory-friendly kids costumes from Mom Approved Costumes, to exclusive sneak-peek chapters of the book that I’ll send to your inbox, to personal autism theme park coaching with me via Skype… there are just too many goodies to mention here.

And, of course, you can pre-order a copy of the book itself, which is the main “reward.”

So please, I urge you to visit Kickstarter.com and make a pledge to Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide today. The campaign will end May 7th and here’s the big thing – for those of you who aren’t familiar with Kickstarter.

If I do not raise the full amount that I’m seeking, the campaign fails and I get nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. No one’s credit card gets charged and, frankly, it’s going to take a whole lot longer for me to get the book published and into your hands. If the Kickstarter is a success, you should be able to get it by November/December of this year.

I’ve also created a Facebook page for the book called, naturally, Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide.

Which, by the way, a lot of people have told me that it’s been much easier for them to log into Kickstarter.com for the first time using their Facebook account, especially if they are using a mobile device – so there’s a tip for you.

Thank you so, so very much!

Tip of the Week:

If you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel you can order waterproof mattress covers for your hotel bed. When you travel with someone, adult or child, who has issues with urinary incontinence or nighttime bed-wetting, it can be a great source of stress.

For many years my son with autism wet his bed at lease 3-4 times per week and even if he was wearing pull-ups they would often leak. I was always worried about this happening when we were staying at a hotel.

Instead of trying to pack a waterproof bed pad in your luggage, you can order one ahead of time. Definitely mention this to your Disney Travel Agent or, if you’re making your own travel arrangements, contact Walt Disney Resort Special Reservations at 407-939-7807, or  Disneyland Resort Special Reservations at 714-520-5045.

Thanks for listening,

Kathy

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Diabetic Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World, New DCL Service Dog Gangway Pass and more! 066

Service Animal Gangway Pass

Guest: Robyn Adams. We discuss DAS Rumors, Diabetic Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World, the new DCL Service Dog Gangway Pass and more. It’s a Round Robin with Robyn!

We’re calling out a blog-disguised-as-a-news site that is posting rumors about changes coming to the DAS Card at Walt Disney World that are emotionally manipulative.

We discuss the upcoming Special Mouse Listener Meet  Friday, May 22, at the Contempo Cafe inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. (4 PM to 6 PM)

This coincides with Robyn’s Diabetic Mouseketeers Weekend, an opportunity “for Diabetic families to go to Walt Disney World and make their own memories while getting a chance to meet other Diabetic families.

Another item we talk about is something shared by listener, Mark Sumonka. Mark has cruised multiple times with the Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and today he posted a picture of something new for guests with service animals: a “Gangway Pass.” (We believe this is an internal method of notifying Cast Members on the ship that guests have already notified Disney that they would be traveling with the service animal when booking the cruise.)

For more information about Diabetic Mouseketeers’ and Walt Disney World, contact Robyn Adams at
Robyn@travelwiththemagic.com
www.travelwiththemagic.com

Tip of the Week:

As part of Autism Awareness Month, I’d like to spotlight Beth Blancher at Mouse-Aid. Beth has created social stories for people with Autism and related challenges to use at Walt Disney World. Social stories are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why. Social Stories can help a person with autism to understand how others might behave or respond in a particular situation, and therefore how they might be expected to behave.

Check them out at  mouse-aid.org. 

* * * * * * * * *

Please visit my page on Kickstarter to learn more about the book I am writing,

Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide

Thank you!

~ Kathy

 

 

 

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Special Mouse Celebrates Autism Awareness with: Michelle Young from The Disney Dream Girls

Happy April! Happy Autism Awareness Month!

I’ve gathered some of my Disney-loving friends to share guest posts about Autism Awareness and Disney, which I’ll be sharing throughout the month of April.

Enjoy!

This post was submitted by Michelle Young, co-host of The Disney Dream Girls podcast.

Autism Awareness

When my son, Ciarán, was diagnosed (officially), it was a kind of relief to have a label to describe his issues and in turn this then enabled him to get the support he needed.

Many people make the assumption that because he has this label he is in a special school or he has a special talent, like Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond in Rain Man. This is miles away from the truth. He is in mainstream school; he is in the top 10% of his class – bright but not overtly gifted. His difficulties are mainly with interaction with others, having unusual reactions to noises, crowds, pain and food amongst others. One trait he does have is obsessions! As a baby, it was Thomas the Tank Engine, now it is Doctor Who.

He is now aged 15, and his school has harnessed his drawing talents to create a poster for autism awareness across the school, which I would like to share with you.

 

image1

 

Ciarán has inherited my Disney obsession, despite living in the UK; together we have been fortunate to visit both US Disney parks. Thanks to the accommodations we were able to arrange, he was able to access everything and despite the occasional meltdown, we had an amazing time.

I would like to thank Kathy for giving me the opportunity to support Autism Awareness. When I’m not enthusing about Disney, I can be found on my podcast, The Disney Dream Girls where we enthuse about the food, attractions and fun to be had in the Disney theme parks.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thank you, Michelle! You can listen to a recent podcast episode with Michelle and Ciaran here > Disneyland Trip Report with Aspergers and ADHD

This blog series is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter.

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Please support the publication of this book!

Kathy

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Accessible Travel and the Special Needs Family: A Discussion with the Founders of Special Globe – 065

unnamed

 

Today I’m chatting with Jonathan Yardley and Meghann Harris, founders of an innovative special-needs travel site called Special Globe.

They have created a site “that will allow parents the ability to book custom trips, book hotels and share their experiences and learn from other parents and experts through forums and written articles about everything from tips and tricks, top ten things to do and basic travel advice.”  They plan to develop their own itinerary guides for Special Globe members that would include comprehensive information about special needs travel. Where to stay, where to eat, what wonderful activities would be available to you that your whole family could enjoy, where are the hospitals, where are the pharmacies, where can I get a beach scooter, where can I get a certified aid that could help my family while on vacation in each of these locales and much more. All of it completely free of charge.

Meghann has two children; her daughter was diagnosed with atypical Rett Syndrome when she was one year old. Meghann’s love of family travel and her strong desire to provide that same experience to her family was the driving force behind the creation of Special Globe.

AtlantisPhoto_17

You can visit the Special Globe website HERE and connect with them on social media on Twitter , Facebook , and YouTube.

Mousekeeping:

Well, the feedback keep pouring in on the Facebook Group for the cover image for my upcoming book, Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide. I posted the top three images, asked you all to vote, and you’ve been no help at all because there’s a hundred comments and the votes are all over the place!

So, it’s back to the drawing board for the illustrator who will be tweaking the design based upon your suggestions. (I should probably run some kind of a contest or something, I’ll have to think about that a bit.)

Naturally, I’m really excited about bringing this book to you. Our family’s been enjoying WDW pretty much every year for the past 12 years and so we’ve learned a lot about navigating the parks with our son, Billy, who has Autism. We’ll be into the April in a couple of days and, if you are not aware, April is Autism Awareness Month in the United States, and World Autism Awareness Day will be celebrated on April 2nd.

Unfortunately, I will be celebrating World Autism Awareness Day by increasing my awareness of our state’s judicial system, as I was called to State Grand Jury selection on that very day. Yuckk!

The real celebration for me will come sometime early in April – I don’t have the exact date, yet, but I promise I will let you know – when I launch the Kickstarter campaign to help me publish the book!

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a crowdfunding platform for creative projects like books, films, music albums, etc.

Essentially, it’s a way for you to pre-order the book AND support the project in general.

I’ve set up a page here on the website and also a Facebook page for Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide; please visit either of those if you’d like more information.

Opinion: DAS Rumors!

My take on this week’s rumor; please see this blog post. Let’s not begin yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater.

Tip of the Week:

This week’s tip addresses concerns about TSA Security and air travel with pre-filled medication syringes.

TSA

If you’re worried that your medication syringes will be opened and the liquid tested by Transportation Security Administration agents, you may rest at ease. The only reason that agents may screen your liquid-filled syringes is if they appear to be tampered with. The TSA suggests that you keep all pre-filled syringes sealed and transport them in their original box that has the prescription label attached.

Have your syringes in an easily accessible place in your carry on. Put them in the bin when you are going through the screening process. The more upfront you are about medically-necessary liquids, the fewer problems you will have.

It is also recommended that you bring a copy of the original prescription from your doctor.

If you have any questions about pre-filled medication syringes or any other medically-necessary liquid, you may call the TSA Cares FREE hotline at 1-855-787-2227 prior to your flight, or, visit the website and click on the tab for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions.

Thanks for listening,

Kathy

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Disney DAS Card Changes: DAS only a RUMOR, Folks!

rumorsI checked into Facebook this morning and was dismayed to find talk swirling over a proposed change to the DAS (Disability Access Service) Card at Walt Disney World. It wasn’t the vague details of said change that bothered me, so much as the effect it was having on people. Apprehension, anxiety and speculation do not sit well on an empty stomach.

Better put the kettle on!

Ah, rumors. Or as one member stated, “Drama, drama!” with a wink. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t keep our ears to the ground when the rumor mill begins to rumble and the wheel begins to turn. Many of us, myself included, recall when the original story about the end of the GAC (Guest Assistance Card) “broke” ahead of the official announcement in September, 2013. I didn’t believe it at the time, but that one turned out to be 100% true.

What bothers me most about rumors is that people who are already under a lot of stress can become quite anxious and worried as speculations build and spread; while for others, each rumor serves to open up old wounds, resulting in postings full of resentment and bitterness. I don’t like to see people getting angry and upset, especially if what they are getting upset about has not yet been confirmed!

Okay, let’s back it up a bit. What started all this, anyway?

Someone shared a screen shot of  a friend’s Facebook post. A Florida resident who is a Walt Disney World AP (Annual Pass) holder, this woman went to Guest Services this morning to renew her DAS Card. Afterwards she posted:

Don’t know what is happening but the DAS Program after 4/30 is changing and CM [Cast Member] said it’s either going to a band program or going away completely but AP FL residents normally get a 2 month card and we’ve been informed that it’s changing so they can’t write them longer than 4/30. Guessing the recent lawsuits and rulings are either causing changes or cancellation of the DAS for everyone. We shall see how it changes and how it effects our ability to do the parks but may be last year we have APs if we find it too hard to manage the parks and the stress and the pain to our bodies.

Okay, can you spot the problem here? There is one piece of “truth” in this post but it is sandwiched between subjectivity and speculation on the part of this guest. Here is what I see to be “truth”:

She went to Guest Services to renew her Florida Resident Annual Passholder DAS Card and was told that it could not be extended past 4/30. That was her experience. The rest is ALL speculation and hearsay!

Don’t know what is happening but the DAS Program after 4/30 is changing and CM said it’s either going to a band program or going away completely.

No, you don’t know what is happening and apparently, neither does the Cast Member. (Which is it, going to a band program or going away??)

Guessing the recent lawsuits and rulings are either causing changes or cancellation of the DAS for everyone.

Yes, my dear, this is only your guess. But thank you for scaring everyone by projecting your own anxieties onto what’s happening!

Sharing is caring, however, I’m not so sure it was very prudent to share  “as is” without editing the more inflammatory statements. But let’s not yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater! And please, friends, take everything you read/hear with a grain of salt. There’s enough DAS Card anxiety going around already — I’m pretty sure it’s getting it’s own ICD-9  diagnosis code soon!

What do I think is happening? I have an idea, but don’t take my word for it.

What I do know is that my family will be vacationing at Walt Disney World in May and that we plan to request the DAS Card. If there has been any change to the system, I will let you know.

Until then, I’m not going to get my undies in a bundle!

~ Kathy

Just-The-Facts-Maam

 

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WDW Attraction Vehicle & Seating Guide – Animal Kingdom – 064

Part 4 of a discussion with Erin Foster about accessibility and sensory concerns of attraction vehicles and seating at the Walt Disney World theme parks. Today we visit Animal Kingdom!

We break down  all of the Attractions and Shows by:

– Seating capacity per row

– Seating capacity per attraction vehicle

– Wheelchair accessibility

– ECV or Scooter accessibility

-Stroller accessibility

– Seating surface

– Safety restraints

– Boarding procedure

– Height requirement

– Sensory issues: sights, sounds, smells, motion

You can read Erin’s original blog Here.

 

We also touched on The Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line 2015, which Erin co-authored with Len Testa and Laurel Stewart.

UG DCL

 

Tip of the Week:

Today’s tip is in response to a listener question about the Kids Clubs on Disney Cruise ships. Jennifer asks,

“On a cruise if my daughter wants to be in the kid’s club, which I’m sure she will, if she is suppose to get certain meds at certain times will I have to go there and do it? Can I leave the meds with the cast members in there to give to her at those times? How does this work? She is on meds 4 times a day.”

Answer:  Unfortunately, Disney Cruise Line Kids Club counselors are not permitted to administer medications to children due to liability reasons. You will need to either (1) schedule your daughter’s visits around her medication schedule or (2) stop in and give her the medications yourself. You will be given a “sea phone” so that you can communicate with counselors while your daughter is playing in the activity center. For more information about DCL Kids Clubs you can visit the DCL website.

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Thank you to all who voted for Special Mouse in the 10th Annual NMX People’s Choice Podcast Awards! Results will be announced mid-April.

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Please check out our new affiliate, Mom-Approved Costumes! Sensory-friendly, machine washable Disney dress-up clothes.

You will be given a savings coupon code and Special Mouse will earn a small commission if you make your purchases using the link in the sidebar, right >>>>>>>>>

It’s a fun and easy way to help support the show!

 

Thanks for listening,

 

Kathy

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WDW Attraction Vehicle & Seating Guide, Part Three: Disney’s Hollywood Studios – 063

BillandTracy

 

Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times; we’re taking a practical look at the accessibility of vehicles and seating found at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, including

– Seating capacity per row
– Seating capacity per vehicle
– ECV and wheelchair accessibility
– Seating surface
– Safety restraints
– Boarding procedure
– Height requirement
– Sensory issues

Tip of the Week: Information and a bit of etiquette advice regarding posting questions about Disney’s DAS Card in groups and discussion forums.  How to navigate Disney’s website to find information for Guests with Disabilities.

 

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A Disney DAS Social Story for Young Children with Autism

Photo courtesy of Autism at the Parks

Photo courtesy of Autism at the Parks

 

When Disney’s Guest Assistance Card was replaced with the Disability Access Service Card in October, 2013, it was done rather abruptly. This didn’t give families traveling with young children on the Autism Spectrum much time to prepare. I quickly wrote out this social story and posted it on my personal blog.

I happened to be at the Magic Kingdom with friends the day that the DAS went into effect. My friend John Saccheri , aka, Big Fat Panda, agreed to help me create a video version of the social story.  He makes amazing point-of-view attraction videos that my son, Billy, cannot get enough of! I didn’t have Billy with me, so fellow Disney blogger Aunesty Janssen graciously allowed us to “borrow” the experience she had with her son and use it for the social story. Thank you, both. I hope that you find this video to be useful as you plan for your Disney vacation!

A DAS Social Story Video

Script:

There is something new at Disney that will help me to have fun. It is called the DAS card.

To get the DAS card we visit Guest Relations. The Cast Members at Guest Relations are there to help us.

My Mom or Dad or _________ will ask a Cast Member for the DAS card. The Cast Member will ask my Mom or Dad some questions about me.

I will try to stay quiet while they are talking. If I am quiet my Mom or Dad will be so proud of me.

The Disney Cast Member will take my picture. I will try to stay still when my picture is taken.

Now I have a special card with my picture on it.

Sometimes, there is a long line of people waiting for a ride that I want to do.

I must wait for my turn. Waiting can be hard.

My Mom or Dad will give the Cast Member my DAS card. He or she will write something on the back of the card. It is the time that we can come back to ride.

When that time is up we will come back to ride.

I will try to be patient while I wait for my turn to ride. This is a good idea.

There are many things that I can do while waiting for my turn.

I can have a snack. I can play a game. I can use the restroom. I can listen to music.

I can _____________________________________.

Mom or Dad will be happy if I wait quietly for my turn to ride.

When it is time for my turn, we will come back to the ride and get in the shorter line. It is good to be in the shorter line.

 

Soon I will ride and I will feel happy.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kathy

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A Message to Team Mighty Mikey from the Special Mouse Family – 062

E&B

I want to tell you about a very special little boy named Mikey. Mikey was diagnosed with Brain & Spine Cancer in September of 2008, just before his 3rd birthday. For the past 6 years his life has been filled with doctors’ visits and hospitals, needles and chemotherapy. And the Muppets. Lots and lots of Muppets! I’m convinced after seeing his photo albums on Facebook that Mikey is the biggest Sesame Street and Muppets fan in the entire world!

Mikey’s family has been through so much over the course of the past few years. In addition to dealing with Mikey’s illness, his family lost their home to Hurricane Sandy & were forced to uproot themselves from their community. In spite of all this, Mikey has amazed everyone with his courage & bravery. That’s why his family calls him “Mighty Mikey.”

Eventually, however Mikey’s condition became such that medical treatment of the cancer was set aside and Mikey entered Hospice Care with continued treatment focused on comfort measures and his quality of life.

Early this year, his mother Chrissie joined the Special Mouse Podcast Community to help her prepare for Mikey’s Make-a-Wish trip to Walt Disney World and we welcomed her with open arms. We followed along as she posted updates, pictures and videos of their stay at Give Kids the World Village, watching as the family visited the Castle of Miracles and Mikey put his star in Stella the Star Fairy’s treasure box and get his very own pillow from the pillow tree.

We shared in the thrill of Mikey meeting his favorite Disney and Muppet characters, and sent prayers and pixie dust when he was feeling very sick and having lots of pain.

My favorite part was their visit to Busch Gardens, and watching Mikey meet his all-time favorite Muppet friend, Ernie – the look of joy on that boy’s face was indescribable.

Chrissy was going to join me here on the podcast to share the story of the family’s Make-a-Wish Trip so she could offer advice to other families but, sadly, Mikey’s condition has taken a turn for the worse since he returned home.

I’ll share a couple of her most recent posts on Mikey’s fan page:

 

“[The Hospice doctor] was here a little while ago. Our Mighty Mikey is slowly declining and we are just loving every moment we can with him, whether it’s watching Sesame Street or the the Muppets, shopping on Amazon or just holding him while he sleeps.”

“Mikey has been alert and engaged for a good 3 or 4 hours today. I am grateful for every moment of those times. We are taking things one hour at a time and loving the times where he is able to interact and laugh with us.”

 

Chrissie and Matt, Mikey, Katie and Timmy – I haven’t known you for a long time, but you have touched my heart and the hearts of everyone in the Special Mouse family. Please know that we are thinking about you and sending you all of our love as you share these last precious hours together.

 

Kathy

 

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Please vote daily for Special Mouse!

PodcastAwardsLogo

 

Hello, this is Kathy Kelly, your Special Mouse podcast host.

profile pic

I’m thrilled to announce that Special Mouse has been nominated for a 2014 Podcast Award at PodcastAwards.com! Woo-Hoo!

There are twenty-two podcast categories, each containing ten shows. Incredibly, ours is the only one of 220 podcasts nominated that is devoted to the interests of people with special needs and disabilities.

Starting today, Tuesday, March 3rd you can vote daily and I’m asking you to please cast your votes for Accessibility, Inclusion and Acceptance by voting for Special Mouse in the Travel category. Let’s tell the world that “The Magic is for EVERYONE!!”

Please visit PodcastAwards.com and vote for SPECIAL MOUSE in the Travel category, which is located on the lower right corner of the slate of categories. You can vote once per day, EVERY day, until the voting period ends, and your daily votes are necessary and important to help the show.

Also, please be sure to include your name and a valid email address, as your vote will likely need to be verified by clicking on an email you receive from the Podcast Awards.

Thank you for your support; I appreciate you more than you could ever know!

~ Kathy

don't forget vote

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WDW Attraction Vehicle and Seating Guide, Part Two: Epcot – 061

Part 2 of a discussion with Erin Foster about Epcot’s attraction vehicle and seating accessibility and more!

Land

Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times; we’re taking a practical look at the accessibility of vehicles and seating found at Epcot, including

  • Seating capacity per row
  • Seating capacity per vehicle
  • ECV and wheelchair accessibility
  • Seating surface
  • Safety restraints
  • Boarding procedure
  • Height requirement
  • Sensory issues

 

Tip of the Week:

This week I have a question from Rae who asks about the ECV and wheelchair accessibility of the water taxis that run between Port Orleans & Port Riverside and the Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs) area.

I’m happy to report that they are accessible, unlike the smaller water taxis that run between the Magic Kingdom and the Monorail Resorts (The Polynesian, The Contemporary and The Grand Floridian). This is important to know if you are staying at one of these resorts and are using a scooter or ECV because you will need to use the monorail to get to and from the Magic Kingdom.

Also, some of the smaller launches that run between the Magic Kingdom and the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Resort do not accommodate wheelchairs and scooters, but some of the larger ones do. So, make sure you check the signage when you queue up at the dock before you spend time waiting for a boat that cannot accommodate you. It’s also important to remember that none of these boats run if there is lightning danger, heavy rains or high winds.

Thanks for listening,

 

Kathy

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WDW Attraction Vehicles and Seating Guide, Part One: Magic Kingdom 060

PPan

 

Erin Foster, original member of the Disney Parks Moms Panel and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line (2015 edition), joins Kathy to discuss her recent four-part blog series at touringplans.com: Walt Disney World Attraction Vehicles and Seating Guide. Today we take a practical look at the attractions and seating at the Magic Kingdom.

The questions that Erin originally set out to answer in her blog series were:

  • I’m a single parent with two small children, will I be separated from them on rides?
  • I’m a plus-sized person, can I fit into the ride vehicles without embarrassment?
  • My knees are bad, will I have to step up or down to get into the ride vehicles?
  • I’m in a wheelchair, do I have to transfer out of it to go on the rides?
  • I have a large party, how will we be split up when visiting the attractions?
  • I have balance issues, will the attraction vehicle be moving while I’m trying to board?

You can find her post here on Touring Plans.

We expand on this information to include elements of attraction vehicles and seating that have an impact on those with sensory issues and fears:

  • Darkness, bright lights
  • Loud Noises
  • Strong Smells
  • Spinning, Motion Sickness
  • Heights

Included in our discussion is an explanation of the Child Swap, Use of Strollers, Disney Parks policy on Cast Members assisting with transfers to ride vehicles, and the importance of following posted safety guidelines/recommendations (especially for guests who are pregnant or who have pre-existing heart, back and neck problems).

Tip of the Week:

For plus-size guests who may be concerned about ride vehicles that require the use of seat belts: some of the attractions provide seat belt extenders. Ask a cast member about availability at the entrance to an attraction if you are concerned about fitting into the traditional seat belt. You want to be both safe and comfortable!

Join us next time for Part Two of the Walt Disney World Attraction Vehicles and Seating Guide when we look at Epcot.

Thanks for listening,

Kathy

 

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Disney Theme Park Accommodations for Guests with Disabilities: An Overview

 “To all who come to this happy place — welcome! Disneyland is your land.”

Walt Disney, Disneyland Opening Day Speech, 1955

waltopening

 

Disneyland and the Walt Disney World Resort have long been recognized as among the most inclusive and accessible vacation destinations in the world, largely because of the high standards of hospitality and customer service set by their namesake in the 1950’s.

Tradition notwithstanding, times do change and in many ways for the better. Improvements in health care and pharmacology are enabling adults to live longer. Advances in technology allow those with mobility challenges to maintain active lives within the community. Increased social awareness and acceptance of people with differing levels of functional ability provide greater opportunities for everyone to access and participate in travel and recreational activity, such as a theme-park vacation!

Given all this, it would be difficult to imagine a travel party that does not have at least one member with some sort of special need or health challenge.

On October 9, 2013, Disney completely overhauled its system for accommodating Guests with disabilities to coincide with the new FastPass+ System of reservations for high-volume attractions. If you’ve visited either the Disneyland or the Walt Disney World Resorts prior to this date and have utilized these accommodations, you’ll see that although Guests’ needs continue to be accommodated, the system has become more complex.

So, what does this mean for you as you plan your Disney vacation with extra challenges? Let’s look at what the parks offer for differently-abled Guests with special needs:

 

Before you arrive

Disney has information for Guests with Disabilities available for review on the official website. This should be your first stop when seeking information because it comes “straight from the Mouse’s mouth!”

Walt Disney World

Disneyland

 

At the Theme Parks

The Guide for Guests with Disabilities is a brochure that provides a detailed overview of services and facilities available for Guests with disabilities. It is available at Guest Relations locations within all 4 Disney Theme Parks, 2 Disney Water Parks, vacation planners, front desk and concierge areas, and wheelchair rental locations.

This guide provides a detailed overview of the services and facilities available for Guests with disabilities, including information about:

  • Parking
  • Companion restroom locations
  • Accessible drinking fountain locations
  • Auxiliary aids
  • Telephone assistance
  • Transportation facilities
  • Specific attraction entrance and boarding procedures, as some attractions allow Guests to remain in a wheelchair and some are transfer-accessible.

 

Additionally, Guests with specific disability concerns can visit Guest Relations at any of the Disney Theme Parks or Disney Water Parks for additional information and assistance.

Note the locations of the First Aid Station in each of the theme parks. First Aid Stations provide a place to store medications and spare oxygen tanks, or to receive assistance.

Disney offers several accommodations for Guests with visual and hearing challenges and for Guests who utilize trained service animals – for the most part, these have not changed.

Some examples of accommodations include:

  • Assistive Listening systems
  • Reflective Captioning
  • Sign Language interpretation
  • Text Typewriter telephones
  • Handheld Captioning
  • Video Captioning
  • Audio Description devices
  • Braille guidebooks
  • Digital audio tour

 

Handheld Accessibility Device

Image: Disney

 

The Disney Theme Parks welcome Trained Service Animals

It is important for you to know that Cast Members are not permitted to take control of service animals. Guests with service animals should follow the same attraction entrance guidelines as Guests who use wheelchairs.

Each Theme Park and allows Guests to use (backstage) locations for service animal relief areas. Please consult the Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities, for specific information.

 

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Photo: Edward Crane, personal collection

 

Accelerated Access to Attractions

The accommodation that previously provided accelerated access to certain attractions based upon the ability of the guest to tolerate an extended wait in the queue is no longer being provided. Disney’s Guest Assistance Card (GAC) has been replaced with the Disability Access Service Card (DAS), which has been designed to work together with the FastPass+ system of attraction reservation. With the DAS, guests now receive a return time for attractions based on their current posted wait time.

 

Image: wdwdreamin

 

The official guide to the Disability Access Service Card   is available for download in PDF format. If you plan to request this accommodation, I highly recommend that you review the file thoroughly.  As with the GAC, requests for the DAS accommodation are made in person at Guest Relations located at the front of each of the four theme parks. Unlike FastPass+ reservations, procurement of the DAS is not available prior to your arrival at the theme park.

One noticeable change with this new system appears to be the way in which the Cast Members at Guest Relations are granting a particular accommodation based upon the Guest’s stated need, NOT their diagnosis or disability.

Needs based upon cognitive or sensory disabilities that make it difficult for the Guest to wait in the traditional queue are offered the DAS, which will provide the Guest with an alternate waiting environment. Guests who state that they their need is based upon mobility or endurance issues are offered the accommodation of wheelchair or ECV (scooter) rental if they do not already have their own assistive device and are offered the alternate entrance accommodation.

Guests are encouraged to utilize either of these accommodations in addition to the Fast Pass and FastPass+ reservation systems. Again, I urge you to review the official Disney Parks information prior to your arrival at the theme parks. There you will find a detailed description of how the accommodations are utilized.

 

Accommodation for Guests with Cognitive, Sensory and Mental Health Challenges

Disney has created a Resource for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities Including Autism Spectrum Disorder for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, also available as pdf files. Some of the information is applicable to Guests with Anxiety Disorders and PTSD, so even if the need is unrelated to Autism, it is worth a review.

 

Image: Disney

 

It is important for you to know that the American’s With Disabilities Act prohibits Disney from requesting “proof” of disability or even a specific diagnosis. You are, of course, free to divulge your diagnosis if you so choose.  However, Cast Members are being discouraged from accepting “doctor’s notes” that in past years could support the Guest’s request for accommodation.  This is to avoid the perception that Disney is requiring proof, which would be against Federal Law.

In addition, please be aware that Cast Members are not health care providers and most likely will not have a clear understanding of your needs if you simply provide them with a medical diagnosis. Therefore, it is important that the Guest or the Guest’s representative be able to clearly articulate the need.

While the DAS card is most commonly requested for use by Guests with cognitive, sensory, or mental health challenges, there are other invisible medical challenges for which a Guest may find the card useful. Again, it all depends upon the individual need. Some possible examples are:

  • Medical conditions that may result in a rapid change in blood sugar, necessitating immediate treatment
  • Medical conditions that may result in seizures, necessitating immediate treatment
  • Medical conditions that make it difficult for a Guest to wait in a traditional queue, yet preclude the Guest from utilizing a wheelchair or ECV

If there is more than one Guest in a travel party with the need for accommodation with a Disability Access Service Card, it is highly recommended that each Guest obtain his or her own card. This allows the guests to “split up” if needed and still make use of the accommodations.

The process sounds overwhelming, but it is easier than you may think to obtain the accommodations you need. To assist you, I have created an easy-to-read Guide to Requesting Disney’s DAS Card. To receive your guide directly to your inbox, please see the sidebar, above right.

 

Accommodations for Guests with Mobility and Endurance Challenges

Wheelchairs and Electric Conveyance Vehicles (ECVs or “scooters”) are available for rent in all the theme parks.  Quantities are limited and they are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Guests are permitted to bring their own mobility assistive devices.

 

 

Boarding an Accessible Vehicle on the Jungle Cruise

Image: Disney

Guests using wheelchairs or ECVs are provided the accommodation of alternate entrance. It should be noted that, due to safety regulations concerning the number of mobility-impaired guests that may utilize an attraction at one time, the wait for a particular attraction may actually be longer when using this accommodation.  Options for boarding procedures are posted at the entrance to each attraction and may vary.

 

Multiple Disabilities

If the Guest has both a cognitive and a mobility disability, the Guest should request both accommodations.

 

Physical Access

Most attractions, restaurants, shops and shows are accessible to all Guests. In some cases, however, Guests may need the assistance of a member of their party to fully utilize these areas. Also, at some attractions Guests using wheelchairs may need to transfer from their wheelchairs onto an attraction vehicle. Disney Cast Members are not permitted to physically lift Guests from wheelchairs. Disney recommends that Guests who need assistance plan to visit with someone who can physically assist them, when necessary.

 

Prosthetic Devices

Although there are no written guidelines for Guests with prosthetic limbs, Disney Cast Members operating the attractions, particularly the “thrill” rides, may determine Guest safety on an individual basis. The deciding factor appears to be whether or not the Guest is able to brace him- or herself on the ride, with or without the prosthesis.

 

Prosthetic_Info_Sheet

 Image: Rae Augenstein, Personal Collection

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The above information has been presented as a basic guide to the accommodations provided at the Disney Theme Parks. If you have additional questions regarding your individual needs that cannot be answered using the resources mentioned, you may contact the Resorts directly:

Walt Disney World Guest Communications

PO Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040

You can also send an email to WDW.Guest.Communications@disneyworld.com; address it to Disability Relations in the subject line. Give them a phone number so that they can call. It sometimes takes 2-3 weeks, but someone from Disability Relations will call you to discuss your concerns.

DISNEYLAND Guest Communications

 P.O. Box 3232
Anaheim, CA 92803-6161

Email DISNEYLAND.Guest.Communications@disneyland.com. Use Disability Relations in the subject line as above.

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The Disneyland Measles Outbreak: How do I Protect my Family?

It seems as though the American media cannot get enough of the “Disneyland Measles” this week, and why not? Eighty-five cases of a highly contagious disease confirmed in seven states — all connected to Disneyland, “The Happiest Place on Earth” — makes for a tantalizing story. And there’s nothing that grabs the attention of an audience and polarizes it quite like pointing the finger of blame at already unpopular groups: the anti-vaccination movement, undocumented immigrants, and an ineffective public health system. And really, how many people – fans included — can resist poking fun at the giant Disney Company by sharing photo-shopped images of Mickey Mouse covered in red dots?

 

disneyland-measles

 

Of course, this recent outbreak is not Disney’s fault, although there are multiple reasons why Disneyland/DCA is the perfect incubator for it. The guests who contracted and spread the measles all visited during the weeks surrounding Christmas, when the theme parks are often filled to capacity with visitors from all over the world, including places such as Mexico, Europe and Asia where measles is still a problem.  Measles is highly contagious; the virus is spread via air droplets (coughing, sneezing) and it can live on surfaces for up to two hours.

As you know, I am a Registered Nurse and a mom. I’m also planning my family’s upcoming Walt Disney World vacation. Therefore, I want to discuss the ONE question regarding this recent outbreak that I believe is paramount: How do I protect my family from a contagious illness like the measles while on our vacation?

I am not going to bore you with the epidemiological history of measles, nor do I intend to debate the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. But, let me be clear. Measles is not a harmless childhood disease.

There is no cure for measles, just supportive care while the virus runs its course – which includes high fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and a nasty, full-body rash. About 35% of children under five who contract measles are hospitalized with complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis. Encephalitis can leave you deaf, brain-damaged or even dead. According to the Center for Disease Control, the death rate for children is 1 per 1,000.

Whoops, I’m sorry. I did say that I wasn’t going to throw numbers at you. But that particular statistic is truly devastating if you happen to be the parents of that one child.

So, here are my tips for reducing your chances of contracting the measles on your next Disney vacation (which just happen to be in line with recommendations from the CDC.)

1. Make sure you are fully immunized against measles.

  • If unsure of your immunity status, discuss your travel plans with your primary health provider.
  • You should have your blood tested for measles immunity, especially if you were vaccinated prior to 1989.
  • Get a booster vaccination if needed. (Those vaccinated after 1989 received two doses of vaccine, older people received only one.)
  • No infants under one year of age should visit Disneyland until the current outbreak has subsided.
  • If un-vaccinated or under-vaccinated, STAY AWAY.* See California Department of Public Health recommendations.

2. Anyone with a medical condition or who is receiving medical treatment that weakens the immune system should consider wearing a protective face mask, available at most larger drug stores. You can even purchase these cute Disney-themed masks for kids from schoolhealth.com (75/Box, $17.50)

Disney Face Mask

3. Practice meticulous hygiene

  • Proper hand washing with soap and water is vital, especially after using the toilet, after sneezing or before eating or handling food.
  • If no soap and water is available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel.
  • Cover mouth and nose when sneezing/coughing, preferably with a tissue. If no tissue is available, use your sleeve and not your bare hand.

4. Know the signs and symptoms of measles and, if noted, seek medical attention immediately.

measles2

 

Cancelling a planned vacation can be extremely difficult, but for those without sufficient immunity to the measles, travel to Disneyland — or any destination where large numbers of people gather and there are a number of international visitors — would be highly risky at this time.

The views  expressed in this blog are not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your personal physician or health care provider before undertaking any type of travel or new activity. Thank you!

~ Kathy

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