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Be a Part of Our Thanksgiving Episode!

Happy Thanksgiving Mickey

Stepping out into the chilly air this morning, I really felt it — Autumn is fully upon us! The leaves are turning red, orange and gold and practically every home is boasting some kind of pumpkin or scarecrow decoration. There’s less than one week to go before Halloween trick-or-treaters scamper across the neighborhood lawns and then we’ll turn our attention to that all-American holiday — THANKSGIVING!

Yes, it’s that time of year again!  Time to share your messages of thanks with the Special Mouse podcast community!

Use the widget, below, to leave a message. Tell us what you are thankful for during this season of Thanksgiving. I look forward to sharing your messages on the air!

All the Best,

Kathy

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Stroller as Wheelchair on Walt Disney World Buses?

Stroller-tag

Photo: chipandco.com

Let’s clear up the confusion surrounding use of the stroller as wheelchair accommodation and safe transit on the Walt Disney World bus system!

The stroller as wheelchair accommodation offered within the theme parks is designed to help children with disabilities and medical conditions to access attractions. Disney says:
“Guests with disabilities—including those with a cognitive disability—who need to remain in a stroller while in an attraction queue should visit the Guest Relations Lobby at the theme parks in order to obtain the appropriate identifying tag.” This accommodation can be used with any stroller, from a top-of-the-line Maclaren to the throwaway umbrella you picked up at Walmart just for the trip.

It can also be used for actual wheelchairs.

Lightweight, folding pediatric wheelchairs are often referred to as strollers – special needs strollers, adaptive strollers or medical strollers. It can be difficult for Cast Members to tell the difference between them and some of the fancy stroller models available today! That is why I typically recommend that parents who utilize pediatric wheelchairs for their children request the stroller-as-wheelchair tag for use in the parks, simply as a convenience. Yes, you know it’s a wheelchair and I know it’s a wheelchair, but who wants to have to explain the difference to Cast Members over and over all day long?

So, you’ve had a fun day at one of the parks and now it’s time to return to your resort via the Disney bus system. Here is where things seem to get a bit fuzzy in people’s minds when it comes to the stroller as wheelchair accommodation at Disney! Strollers must be folded when boarding the Disney buses…

stroller-folded

Photo: touringplans.com

This applies even if you have a stroller as wheelchair tag. Remember, this accommodation is provided for theme park attraction access only. There is no way to safely secure a child in a stroller while on the bus – period.

But hey! What about those special needs strollers we mentioned earlier? Many times I’ve read comments from parents who were annoyed because they were unable to wheel their child onto a bus and allow the child to remain in their stroller. “But, it’s not a stroller, it’s a WHEELCHAIR!” they protest.

True. However, not all pediatric wheelchairs are equipped to be bus transit safe!

Let’s look at one of the most popular suppliers of special needs strollers (folding pediatric wheelchairs) — Convaid.

Convaid makes a variety of wheelchairs; most can be outfitted with an additional transit package:

Transit Option – Required Items:

  • Headrest Extension

  • Trunk Positioning Belt

  • Foot Positioners

  • Four Bright Red Anchors (manufacturer required installation)

According to Convaid, their wheelchairs are only transit safe if they are outfitted with this transit package and are secured in a forward facing position. (For more information, you can download the Convaid Transit brochure HERE.)

This is why not all children in special needs strollers (wheelchairs) are permitted to remain inside them while on the buses — it simply is not safe. And, to insist that the bus driver transport your child in this manner when the chair is not equipped for transit is asking him or her to go against safety standards.

So, if you want to be able to transport your child in his or her special needs wheelchair, make sure that it is equipped with the necessary transit options.

Safe for Transit on Bus-

Thanks for reading!

For more about special needs at all Disney travel locations, listen & subscribe to the Special Mouse podcast.

 

Kathy

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So, a Special Mouse and a Big Fat Panda walk into a bar…

BFP LOGO

Just Kidding!

But I WAS a guest on John Saccheri’s Big Fat Panda Show this month — check it out!

Thanks for having me, John, and for shining a light on Special Mouse and it’s mission to give a voice to Disney Guests with Special Needs!

In addition to his monthly video show, John posts lots of Walt Disney World videos to his YouTube channel each month, many of them Point-of-View attraction videos (which my son, Billy, just loves!)

 

~ Kathy

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The BIG question: WHEN will “Walt Disney World with Autism” be published?

I’m working on bringing you the absolutely BEST book that I can! It’s my goal to publish Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide by the end of 2015.

 

 

Readers will learn:

  • How to prepare themselves and their children with Autism for the intensity of the Walt Disney World experience, both mentally and physically
  • How to involve your child’s teachers and therapists in the preparation process
  • How to successfully plan for the logistics of a Walt Disney World vacation with their child’s special needs in mind
  • How to manage specific sensory, behavior, communication and safety challenges while at the theme parks
  • How to assist teens and young adults with Autism to cope with the demands of a Walt Disney World vacation while fostering their independence
  • How to balance the needs of the entire family, including typical siblings and grandparents, with the needs of the child with Autism
  • How to plan for and request dietary accommodations for Gluten-Free and other special diets
  • How to access theme park services and accommodations, in particular, the Disability Access Service Card
  • How to tour Walt Disney World with a Trained Autism Service Dog
  • How to take advantage of local resources available to families with Autism
  • And much, much more!

 

Thanks so much for your interest in Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide!

Kathy

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Are you anxious about taking a child with Autism to Walt Disney World?

Trust me, I can help you!

Hmm. Well now, that’s a pretty big promise. Really, why should you trust me? You may not even know me!

Perhaps you are new to the Special Mouse Podcast. That’s okay; there are lots of people out there who are just discovering podcasts — online talk shows on-demand.

Perhaps you’ve seen Tweets and Facebook posts and Pinterest pins about a fundraising campaign to help somebody named Kathy publish a Walt Disney World travel guide for families with autism and you think to yourself,Anyone can self-publish a book these days. Sure, it sounds like a great idea, but she’ll make TONS of money once the book is published! Why is she asking people for money now, before the book is finished?”

 

scrooge-mcduck-300x225

 

 

I can see why you may be skeptical about pledging your hard-earned money, so I want to address your concerns if I can!

Here’s the basics:

  • I am writing a special needs travel guide that will help other families with autism.

  • Traditional publishers have rejected my queries, saying that the niche audience for this book will be too low for them to make a profit.

  • Self-publishing a book does cost money, especially if you are printing one that includes pictures, and if you want it professionally edited and formatted.

  • I want to give people the best quality book I can, and to offer it in both digital and print formats.

  • I don’t have the money to do this. (There, I said it!)

 

Kickstarter is basically a way for me to raise capital for the project up-front; backers will receive many Disney- and Autism-related “rewards” for their pledges (including the book itself). And, honestly, unless you are a New York Times bestselling author, writers do not make a lot of money from their books. I am not in this for the money! After all, I’ve been giving away free content and advice on the podcast for almost three years now!

 

5 cents please

 

 

So, I will say it once more: Trust me, I can help you! Or your friend, or your neighbor, or your family member who is planning a Walt Disney World vacation with a child on the Spectrum.

Still not sure? Well, you can always get to know me better by listening to a few episodes of the Special Mouse podcast. Or, you can listen to what a few of my listeners have to say, below. And you can always reach out to me directly via the message feature on the Kickstarter page. I urge you to read more about the book project there!

Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide

Here’s what people are saying….

Testimonial 1-h

 

Testimonial 2-f

Testimonial 3-e

Testimonial 4-g

 

 

Thank you again!

Kathy

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Autism and the Disney Factor

Continuing with our Guest Post Series for Autism Awareness Month, here is the lovely Didi Marie from DisTherapy:

disney autism goofy muscles

 

Disney themes are many and universally appealing.  Mickey Mouse has entertained for 87 years with a pure, simple and honest heart.  Aurora, Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White have often been described as “maidens pure of heart.”  And who would break Sleeping Beauty’s spell?  A man of pure heart who would fall in love with her.  The autism community has for years told anecdotal stories of the allure and sometimes transformative nature of Disney movies and the Disney Parks.  For my son, it was the trips to these parks that first sparked language, attention and curiosity.  Early on, I had many the spirited conversations with the faculty and administrators at his special education center-based program; they feared that removing him from the structure and predictability of his services would be a dangerous loss of valuable time.  However, by the time he entered Kindergarten, they all but included our twice yearly Disney trips into his IEP!  His leaps ahead in attaining milestones were that remarkable and undeniable.  In my 20 years affiliation with autism schools, I have heard similar tales over and over again. What is it about the Disney magic that calls to these children and adults so uniquely??

 

 


Intellectually, one would think that Walt Disney World would cause complete sensory overload for an autism spectrum individual; the action is constant, the shows and fireworks are LOUD, the many park aromas greet Guests at Main Street, U.S.A., and can often be quite hot, humid and crowded.  How, then, do so many of these children and young adults overcome these obvious obstacles and come to be drawn in?

 

We have recently read of the Disney movie affinities of  New York Times Magazine journalist Ron Suskind’s son.  But the deep, almost magical connections with Disney Characters is something very familiar to the autism community.  Dare I say, Disney “breakthroughs” are far more common than have been documented.

I have my own take.  In the almost three decades that I worked as a physical therapist with both the autism and Downs communities, I have many, many times said that I have seen the face of God.  I will include my own son in that grouping; youngsters who are simple, honest and pure of heart and without the trappings of envy, competition, bullying or any other of the seven deadly sins.  My guess is that that the innocence and goodness that is at the soul of the Disney brand is what attracts these individuals the most.  Perhaps the fantasy and fable that is so exaggerated by Disney Characters is a non-threatening safe haven for them.  The storytelling that Walt Disney is most famous for is more powerful than we thought.  There’s magic in that “whole new world.”  And that trumps any Disney commercial I’ve ever seen…

Didi Marie

DIStherapy

* * * * * * * * * *

Thank you, Didi! (My, your sons have done a bit of growing since these photos were taken!)

 This Guest Blogger series for Autism Awareness Month is brought to you by my upcoming book, Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide. I would be most grateful if you would visit my project page on Kickstarter to learn more about the book and how you can pre-order your copy. Thanks!

Kathy

Kick-Image-B

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How a Disney Horse Helped Diagnose My Daughter’s Autism

This is a guest blog submitted by Nancy Romps as part of our Autism Awareness Month and Disney celebration. Enjoy!

* * * * * * * * *

Four days into an extended-family trip to Walt Disney World, I was three hours into occupying a couple of square feet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But I wasn’t in line for a thrill ride, a Mickey ice cream bar or even the restroom; I was hanging out with a horse.

Colleen-2

No, not a live horse, or even a costumed character. It was a life-size statue, complete with saddle and stirrups, outside one of the Studios’ many gift shops. And after four straight days of sensory overload and overstimulation, it was exactly where my then 6-year-old daughter, Colleen, needed to be.

For almost two years, our family had been searching for a diagnosis that would put a name to Colleen’s differences and help us navigate her needs. Mother’s instinct had whispered “autism” early in the process, but the professionals just couldn’t come to a consensus. One neuropsychologist actually congratulated us when her testing didn’t indicate autism, but my mood was far from celebratory. All I knew was we were no closer to understanding what was going on than when we began.

A resort known for loud noises and crowds certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice at that point in time, but because the trip was a gift from my in-laws I was determined to make the best of it. Overall Colleen enjoyed the sights and time with the extended family, but she wasn’t able to handle more than an hour or two in the parks before zoning out. Time and again, heading toward an exit with my daughter while the rest of the family sought out attractions and thrills, I decided that we were doing Disney “wrong” … until a horse told me otherwise.

We weren’t 100 yards past the entrance to the Studios when Colleen spotted the horse and begged for a closer look. She immediately hoisted herself onto the saddle and lost herself in imaginative play. For the first time on the trip, she seemed totally at ease and at peace. We had nowhere in particular to be and the spot was shady, so we hunkered down with our new equine friend. From atop the horse, Colleen contently watched the crowds, street performers and even the afternoon parade. Five years later, she remembers exactly how she felt on “her” horse that day: “Happy. Safe. Secure.”

After the trip, I immediately put in a call to the children’s hospital where Colleen had been undergoing evaluations and asked to be seen as soon as possible by a different neuropsychologist. This time I insisted that we dig deeper for answers. Among my list of atypical behaviors, the one that stopped the new neuropsychologist in her tracks was my report of our time with the horse at Disney. It was just one piece to our puzzle, but it was enough for the professionals to understand what they had missed the first time around.

Six months later, after a fresh set of testing, we had a definitive diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. And because the result was like winning my personal Super Bowl, this was my reaction: “We’re going to Disney World.”

Yes, we would return to Walt Disney World. But this time I was armed with more than sunscreen, comfortable shoes and cash: I would have information. Research brought me to resources about managing autism in the parks (in particular, the trip reports written by The Special Mouse’s own Kathy Kelly; support her Kickstarter book project here!). I knew that flexibility would be the key to our enjoyment, not how many attractions we rode or how many characters we met.

For that second family trip, I crafted comfortable mouse ears for Colleen out of felt and a soft black headband. And because of this and subsequent visits to the World, I have learned that it makes perfect sense to ride Spaceship Earth on repeat on cool summer nights. And that you can spend happy hours watching lizards scamper around the landscaping, or crashing a courtyard wedding from the safety of your hotel’s balcony.

And, above all, we now know that even after you learn to enjoy the sights and attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll always find time to visit an old friend.

Colleen-3

Colleen at age 7, one year after first meeting “her” horse at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

* * * * * * * *

Thank you for your post, Nancy!

This blog series is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: a Special Needs Guide. Please visit our page on Kickstarter to support it’s publication — thanks!

~ Kathy

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Walt Disney World with Autism: What’s a Kickstarter, Anyway?

Please read!

Today is National High Five Day (who knew?)

After a bit of research I discovered that National High Five Day was started in 2002 at the University of Virginia. A group of students organized a fundraiser, giving out high-fives and lemonade. The idea spread and over the years peoples of all ages and backgrounds have celebrated National High Five Day every third Thursday in April by giving high-fives all day to friends, co-workers and strangers.

Well, this is perfect timing! The Kickstarter campaign to help publish Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide is in full swing: one week down, three weeks to go! I’m so very grateful to everyone who has already pledged their support. HIGH FIVE!

It's National High Five Day! (1)

I have to admit, however, that I’m feeling a myriad of emotions today. Excitement, apprehension, gratitude and anxiety top the list. Apprehension? Anxiety? Yes! Running a crowdfunding campaign can be rather stressful!

It occurs to me that some of my listeners, readers, friends, supporters — “you guys” — may not be familiar with crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular. (I get the impression that a lot of people are clicking on the Kickstarter link expecting to purchase the book, get confused and just leave.) So, here’s a quick little tutorial from their website:

Kickstarter 101

What are the basics?

A project is a finite work with a clear goal that you’d like to bring to life. Think albums, books, or films.

The funding goal is the amount of money that a creator needs to complete their project.

Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. No one will be charged for a pledge towards a project unless it reaches its funding goal. This way, creators always have the budget they scoped out before moving forward.

A creator is the person or team behind the project idea, working to bring it to life.

Backers are folks who pledge money to join creators in bringing projects to life.

Rewards are a creator’s chance to share a piece of their project with their backer community. Typically, these are one-of-a-kind experiences, limited editions, or copies of the creative work being produced. (The book!)

How does Kickstarter work?

Every project creator sets their project’s funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen. If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

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

Funding is all or nothing. That’s where the stress comes in!

I am so very committed to this book. There are hundreds, if not thousands of families out there who want to share in the magic of Walt Disney World but are afraid that their children with autism will not be able to tolerate the experience. I know that I can help them; I just don’t have the money to publish my book.

One week down, three weeks to go.

Please help me to help you! Pledge to back this book project today! Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide

Thanks!

Kathy

Why Worry

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More Autism Awareness: Using Disney’s Stroller-as-a-Wheelchair Tag

 

toydis2

We continue our month-long celebration of autism awareness and Disney with a guest post from Melissa at the Autism Mommy Avenger Blog!

Riding Along at Disney

When it comes to taking vacations with a child with Autism, it can be a little stressful to think about how the kid will be with crowds, lines and long waits. This was definitely a worry of ours before we took our son to Disney last December. Billy has meltdowns when he is in large crowds, when not moving for a bit, and when he is over stimulated by something. We knew that we would have moments of waiting on a line, or fighting a big crowd when at Disney and were worried he may have a complete meltdown. When we are out somewhere at home, we have his stroller with us in stores. He is always calm when he sits in his own stroller. We made sure when we flew to FL to take his stroller since he was comfortable with it.

When we arrived to Disney we asked for the DAS card for our son, and also asked for the sticker for our stroller. This sticker allows you to use your stroller as a wheelchair. So, my son would be able to just stay in the stroller on lines when we would have a bit of a wait, or when there were a lot of people around…

toydis3

To read more, please visit Mommy Adventure Blog

Thank you, Melissa!

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

The Autism Awareness Month Blog Celebration is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter. Please support the publication of this book, today! (Ends 5/7/15)

Thanks,

Kathy 

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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.

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

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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Thanks,

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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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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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.

 

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Kathy

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Please vote daily for Special Mouse!

PodcastAwardsLogo

 

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

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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

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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

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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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