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The Lion King on Broadway with The Autism Theatre Initiative! 087




On today’s episode we’re taking a virtual trip to NYC’s “great white way” via a Broadway theater trip report!  I recently spoke with Melissa Morgenlander, a native New Yorker and self-described “musical theater geek,” who gathered up enough courage to take her 8 year-old son, Quentin, to a performance of Disney’s The Lion King, an experience that brought her to tears – but in a very good way.

Before you listen to Melissa and Quentin’s story, however, I need to tell you the story of the Autism Theatre Initiative, which made this amazing mother-son experience possible.

The Autism Theatre Initiative is one of the many accessibility programs developed through TDF, the Theatre Development Fund. TDF is a non-profit service organization for the performing arts.

TDF launched the Autism Theatre Initiative with the goal of making theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum, as well as their families. Fittingly enough, the first autism-friendly performance of a Broadway show was Disney’s The Lion King on Oct. 2, 2011, and the program has grown steadily since that time.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, what, exactly, makes a theatre performance “autism-friendly?” Well, it’s all about taking things easy on the senses:

  • The house lights are never completely turned off; they are left dimmed so that the audience will be more comfortable.
  • Loud noises are kept to a minimum, and if there are going to be loud sounds, ushers alert the audience with light sticks on the side.
  • Quiet areas are set up in the lobby and at various levels of the theater, stocked with quiet toys, bean bag chairs, and books.
  • Volunteers are on hand to help audience members who might have to leave mid-show to take a break. They also hand out fidget toys to keep wandering hands busy or calm.
  • A printable social story about going to the theater is available online prior to the show, as well as a video to prepare guests for the experience before they arrive.

Melissa blogs about her adventures with autism, media and technology at The IQ Journals and I highly recommend that you check it out!

Autism Theatre Initiative

Guide for Attending the Autism-Friendly Performance of The Lion King

Upcoming ATI’s Broadway Shows for the 2015-2016 Season

Wicked Feb. 7, 2016 at 1pm

Aladdin March 6, 2016 at 1pm

(Additional Shows May Be Announced Soon.)

Here is a link to the Facebook Post by Kelvin Moon Loh that we mentioned in the show.


Remember to stop by and click on the red “Speak Pipe” tab located on either the blog or podcast page. Be a part of our annual tradition as members of the Special Mouse listening community record a message for our Thanksgiving episode! I can’t wait to listen! And, as a bonus, everyone who leaves a message will be entered into a drawing to win a set of fun Disney character refrigerator magnets, handmade by listener Kerry Kingdon!

Kerry Magnets

Thanks for listening,


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October Chit-Chat – 086



I’m introducing a new, monthly show format today. It’s called, “Chit-Chat, Yick-Yack and Flim-Flam” (A Country Bear Jamboree reference!)

Howdy folks. Welcome to the one and only original Country Bear Jamboree, featuring a bit of Americana, our musical heritage of the past. But enough of this chit chat, yick yack, and flim flam. Just refrain from hibernating, and we’ll all enjoy the show…because we got a lot to give. – Henry





I discuss a mixed bag of topics and some listener emails regarding Disney DAS Anxiety, Gender-Neutral Disney Halloween Costumes, A Petition to provide mechanical lifts in the Disney Parks, Autism-Friendly Theater, The Gingerbread Fun Run 5K to benefit Give Kids The World Village, Vegan Soft-Serve at Erin McKenna’s Bakery and More!

Come again.
Come again.
The welcome mat is always out,
‘Cause seeing you is fun.



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Autism on the Seas and the Disney Cruise Line! 085


Today’s guest is Dr. Rachel Potter from Autism on the Seas!

Dr. Potter is co-chair of the volunteer Advisory Team for Autism on the Seas. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and currently serves as Director of the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Mary Baldwin College where she teaches graduate courses in special education, autism spectrum disorders, and applied behavior analysis.

Dr. Rachel Potter

Dr. Rachel Potter

She is a parent of two children, one of whom has autism.  She has cruised with Autism on the Seas as both a client (with her family) and as a Group Leader and she is here to chat with me about this wonderful organization and how it supports the autism community. Dr. Potter describes how she became involved with Autism on the Seas, first as a client family and later as a Group Leader on Autism on the Seas Cruises (including several on the Disney Cruise Line.)



Autism of the Seas provides a number of different services to special needs families:

  • Cruises with Staff – We discuss the various kinds of supports they provide in kids clubs and during activities while on the cruise. Another big question is toileting issues, and staff ARE able to assist with toileting.  We also discuss the special boarding, mustering and debarking procedures available for clients with sensory issues who are supported by Autism on the Seas.
  • Cruises without Staff
  • Cruise Assistance Package
  • Resort Vacations with Staff –  Autism on the Seas staff are available to assist families at Walt Disney World!




Please visit the Autism on the Seas website for more information. You may reach out to Dr. Potter directly via email. 

Thanks for listening!




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I’m a Vegan, What Can I Eat at Walt Disney World? 084



Food is an integral part of every Disney vacation experience; that’s why at Special Mouse I’ve always placed such importance on discussing the needs of travelers with special dietary requirements.  Today’s guest is Melissa Kramer from Vegan Disney World, a blog that serves up plenty of information on vegan dining options at Walt Disney World. (A vegan diet excludes all animal products and includes all grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and fruits.) Melissa runs the blog with her husband, Corey.

Walt Disney World has tons of options for vegans and vegetarians. We are here to keep an up-to-date log of what vegans can eat while visiting Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida. Here you will find reviews, tips and just current news about food in Disney.

There’s also tons of mouth-watering photos of Vegan menu items, for those of you who are into “food porn!”

Vegetable Sushi Rolls from Tokyo Dining, Epcot

Vegetable Sushi Rolls from Tokyo Dining, Epcot


Crispy Tofu and Noodles, Trail's End, Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort

Crispy Tofu and Noodles, Trail’s End, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort


Like many previous guests on the show, Melissa had high praise for Chef TJ, who is famous for creatively catering to the needs of Walt Disney World diners with special diets or food allergies.


Melissa & Corey with Chef T.J.

Melissa & Corey with Chef T.J.


We even discussed Melissa & Corey’s vegan wedding reception at Atlantic Dance Hall at Disney’s Boardwalk! Their wedding cake was created by DTD Babycakes, NYC (now Erin McKenna’s Bakery, a gluten-free, vegan and Kosher bakery locate at Disney Springs).

Melissa and Corey love to answer reader questions such as this one: Are Dole Whips vegan? 

“Yes,” says Melissa, “as long as you get the pineapple or orange flavor. The vanilla flavor is not vegan. You can find Dole Whips at both Aloha Isle in the Magic Kingdom and Pineapple Lanai at the Polynesian Resort. Additionally the Pineapple Whip Soft-Serve from Tamu Tamu in Animal Kingdom is vegan.”

Vegan AND yummy — what could be more special?

Connect with Melissa on Twitter @VegDisneyWorld and on Facebook at Vegan Disney World.

Thanks for listening!


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Walt Disney Family Museum & The D23 Expo with Autism – 083

Margalit Francus from Autistic Globetrotting is today’s guest. We discuss two recent travel experiences she enjoyed with her young adult son who has HFA (high functioning autism) and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

First, we talk about their recent visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California. The museum, co-founded by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller and his grandson, Walter E. D. Miller, is owned and operated by the Walt Disney Family Foundation. Margalit gives us a tour of the various exhibits, noting which ones her son enjoyed the most. She notes that the Walt Disney Family Museum is more appropriate for teens and adults who are big Disney fans, since there aren’t many interactive exhibits.



photo courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum


The Walt Disney Family Museum frequently offers special events for children with autism, so check the events schedule regularly! Something that I learned when I visited the museum website is that they have their own Podcast! I will definitely be checking THAT out.

Next, Margalit tells us about their recent visit to the 2015 Disney D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. This experience turned out to be much more challenging for her son due to the excitement of the event and her son’s obsessions with Disney. Margalit describes how helpful the event staff was during her son’s behavior meltdowns. Would she take her son to the fan event again? The answer is, “yes,” but there are some things that she would do differently the next time. (This was a last-minute trip and planning was not optimal.)

First, she would select a hotel that was closer to the convention center. This would be more convenient when a break from the excitement would be helpful. Second, she would bring along another adult to help manage the difficult moments. Lastly, she would visit the D23Expo during the less crowded days (Friday and Sunday).



Posing with some familiar friends at the D23 Expo


Please visit to read Margalit’s posts about these two Disney destinations!

Taking Kids to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco 

Disney’s D23 Conference: Helpful Tips for Attending

Margalit shares her family’s travel experiences around the world on her YouTube channel — check it out!

Thanks for listening!



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Cerebral Palsy & Sensory Processing Disorder at Walt Disney World – 082


Richard Payne from Mad Hatter Chatter is this week’s guest. Richard shares how his family plans their Walt Disney World vacations to include the special needs of son, 8 year-old Dickie, who has mild Cerebral Palsy and Sensory Processing Disorder.

Some of the key points of our conversation were:

-Trip-Planning considerations to balance his son’s needs with the needs of the rest of the family

-Adjusting touring to avoid fatigue

-Managing sensory issues (rigidity of food preferences, noise-cancelling headphones, brushing) related to Sensory Processing Disorder

-Managing tight muscles/avoiding muscle spasms related to Cerebral Palsy (ensuring adequate hydration and rest, muscle massage, use of pool/tub)

-Using a stroller with an older child to avoid fatique

-Avoiding falls in unfamiliar resort room

-Activities other than rides that his son enjoys (Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, interactive queues) and that foster sense of independence

-Planning FP+ reservations

-Favorite places to rest in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, DHS and Animal Kingdom


Richard and daughters Avery and Austin co-host a family-friendly Walt Disney World fan podcast called Mad Hatter Chatter. I highly recommend it!

Twitter: @mhchatter

Instagram: @mhchatter




Thanks for listening!


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Is Disney’s DAS “fair?” (Part Two) – 081


Special Mouse listeners weigh in with their opinions during Part Two of Disney’s DAS: Is it “fair?” With guest Maureen Deal from Autism at the Parks.

Thank you to all the listeners who submitted their insights to this important question. Regretfully, not all submissions were mentioned on the show due to time constraints. To continue this discussion about Disney’s DAS and others of interest to Disney travelers with special needs, consider joining the Special Mouse Listener Discussion Group on Facebook. Contact Kathy at for more information about this private discussion group.

Mentioned during this episode:


Ed Russell: There were many people that ‘gamed’ the system with the original GAC; even the paper DAS had its share (but not as many); the electronic DAS has reduced ‘gaming’ to a minimum, in my opinion. Is it fair? Those with mobility issues probably don’t think so, BUT the majority of mobility issue really are resolved with a wheelchair of ECV – and you don’t need any more accommodations if a mobility issue is your only problem. For other problems, the DAS IS fair – in general. However, there are a few times when NOTHING can really accommodate the problems, not even the DAS and extra accommodations. Occasionally you will run across the CM that doesn’t really understand your needs – ask to speak with a supervisor. Disney really does try to accommodate everyone, and is better at it than most companies.

Jen Ivey: I think on paper it sounds like fair and reasonable accommodation and would work great for someone who has a full understanding of the concept of waiting or interests in multiple things to fill that wait time. We will be using the DAS for the 1st time in Sep. My son doesn’t care about characters, window shopping or sitting to eat for any length of time so filling that 40min to an hour us going to be difficult either way. It seems the qualifications for DAS are different than the GAC so that results in less use and in theory they could’ve kept the old system and less people would be allowed “instant Access” as people called it and really doesn’t affect the other riders at all. The DAS is not fair in the fact it adds to our whole family’s anxiety on vacation at a place where we try to function as a typical family. Does that make sense?

Michelle Haffer: Is the DAS fair….? Good question. I can only answer from our perspective and that is from a parent of a 12 year old daughter who is on severe side of the autism spectrum and has moderate MR according to her diagnosis. I don’t like that word, but it is written in her diagnosis. When the DAS first replaced GAC I panicked. The GAC work so well for us and we were able to see and do so much before DD needed a break from the parks. Midday breaks are a MUST. How could we achieve that with the new DAS!? In April 2014 we made our first trip with the DAS and also carefully planned FP+ return times to coordinate with DAS return times. We tend to focus on attractions in one area of the park, especially at MK, and felt the DAS/FP+ combo worked excellently for our family, especially for rides she likes to do twice. However, please know that she doesn’t usually need to repeat rides like some of the spectrum do. My Maddy has autism and has needs that fall under the new DAS guidelines. Is the DAS fair to everyone? I am seeing more and more reports of guests being denied a DAS. The Disney FAQ page states the DAS is for those that cannot wait in the conventional queue. I know that there are MANY valid reasons why guests cannot wait in the conventional queue, not just our reasons. [autism-related] Does that seem fair, NO.”

Diane Myers From my view the DAS is an attempt to throw a blanket access accommodation over a significant portion of the guest population where the blanket doesn’t cover everyone. Is it fair? I’m not sure how to answer that. I applaud Disney for making queues more accessible, more interesting, more interactive, for making changes to try to make things more “equal” in the general guest’s eyes, while serving the needs of the disabled population. Where they fail in my eyes is: in lack of consistent training and implementation for all cast; the anxiety in the process of trying to “prove your case” as to why the DAS is necessary to provide access/accommodation or more specifically why the DAS,as it is currently, is not sufficient to provide access to your family member; and the return time issue. In my experience, there is a significant portion of the general population that doesnt understand why autistic folks have such a difficult time with time, which standing in lines and waiting while being bombarded by sensory stimuli is a huge factor.

When the changeover from GAC to DAS was occurring, I remember being shocked and saddened by posts from Disney lovers who were all aha! so your “special snowflake” doesnt get to go to the front of the line anymore (as if we ever got to go to the front of the line – those same folks never seemed to understand THAT) or “if your kid can’t stand and wait like everyone else, then why to you even bring your kid to a theme park”. I tried to explain the disconnect with the concept of time and sensory issues, over and over and over. Some people were enlightened, many were not.

I think Disney could make things more “fair” by lessening the anxiety in obtaining the DAS; consistent cast member training; allowing more than 1 DAS reservation at a time; hiring more “dis”abled employees so that their cast presence could promote more awareness and understanding amongst the general guest population.

Lori Hope Fries: That is a tricky one. In California it is fair because guests are able to get a comeback time for an attraction at any GS location. However, in WDW you need to go all the way to the attraction for a return time. That is too hard. I am happy that they offer something. I do not like to hear when guests abuse a system. Invisible issues make it impossible to judge but cast member training needs to be increased. As a whole, I am happy that Disney helps and gives guests who truly need a DAS an option.

Debi Rieser Dame:  Using the DAS w the FP+ works at some parks and not at others. We no longer are able to Park Hop, which seems like a waste of our money because we buy APs that include park hopping. But because the FP+ times are so stretched out over the day (we don’t have the option to get our reservations earlier) because the rides we want are already full. It’s been easy to get accommodations in some parks but not in others.

Nicole Thibault Our family alternates the DAS and the FP times to create flow through the day, so that there is minimal waiting. It works for us. The only way they could make it better for our family is if they let is schedule the DAS return times online, like a FP. The whole “walking up to an attraction and coming back later” is difficult for my kid who doesn’t always understand why we can’t ride NOW.

Laura Hunt: I have to say, I have mixed feelings about it being fair. Like so many others, my 14 year old daughter does not have a visible disability. However she has epilepsy, adhd, anxiety, sensory issues, processing issues and cognitive communication problems. This was my first trip back to WDW in three years, so it was a first time to experience using the DAS. Before getting to Disney I thought that getting the DAS was going to be a challenge. I had my only paper pass from three years ago as well as a doctor’s note ready. I did though, have all my FP+ choices set up in advance. This really helped. (We did not rush to get the DAS, probably because of my own anxiety about getting it and my unfamiliarity with the ease of getting one at Hollywood Studios since we have only asked for it in MK.)

Instead, we went on our FP+ choices and decided that we had had enough for the early part of our day. That evening we decided to go to MK. The gentleman who helped me at Guest Relations was wonderful. I made my request to him with an explanation and had my doctor’s note out to show him. He did not even glance at it. He was so courteous and polite to my daughter explaining what she needed to do to use the DAS and why he was taking her picture. He set up our first DAS fast pass. He made this usually stressful event of getting the pass stress free. So as far as getting the pass I feel it is fair.

Next, I do like how there is no more “show the red pass” which inevitably led to the line of dirty looks from people on standby lines when entering the fast pass line. For my daughter, this new DAS made her feel more comfortable because all she had to do was go to a cast member at the attraction and “get a DAS return time.” Upon returning we just used the band like everyone else. She did not have to show a pass that others could see. So doing things this way I feel is fair. For us, the return time led to more “down time” to snack, people watch, or shop, which in turn was better for us at times. So for this part it was fair.

Next, with the FP+ system, many more people are using it, so more so than ever before fast pass lines are much longer. So is it fair??? I suppose, if fair means equal to all, but for visitors who have difficulties waiting in long lines, like my DD, the DAS is not serving its purpose. Also, scheduled FP+ times for the attractions are set up so that you are usually there for at least 4-5 hours. For us, this didn’t work very well. I skirted my way around some of these issues by changing the times of individual fast passes on my phone when at the park. I found it easier to get a time I wanted this way. However I am not sure if this is a FP problem or a DAS problem. It seems we are told to use the FP+ system in conjunction with the DAS but I feel this is what makes it more difficult. There is too much preplanning involved. Preplanning does not always work for my family, as I am sure is the same for many others. When my DD has had enough, it’s time to go, FP+ used or not. Unfortunately this happened many times for us. We missed out on our FP because we needed to take a break. So in this sense, is it fair for all people with disabilities?? No.

All in all, I feel they are trying to make it fair for all people, but just like in the school system, you can not have a blanket system for all people with disabilities, individual disabilities or limitations vary from one person to another, and It will not work. (perhaps this is a little bit of the teacher in me talking, as well).

Sue Mickelson: I do think DAS is fair. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires reasonable accommodation and also has a clause that says people with disabilities should have their needs accommodated in the mainstream as much as possible, which DAS does do. It’s not everything some people might want or need, but the standard for ADA is ‘reasonable accommodation’, which is not the same as schools, which have IEPs (individual Education Plans) and requirement for “least restrictive environment.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Please visit Maureen’s site, Autism at the Parks and listen for her autism travel insights on that OTHER theme park (Universal) on the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast.

Thanks for listening!


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Is Disney’s DAS “fair?” (Part One) – 080


The Magic is for Everyone!

Guest Maureen Deal from joins Kathy to discuss whether or not Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS) accommodation is “fair” and, if so, to whom?

We have discussed the change in Disney’s system of accommodation for guests with disabilities from the GAC to the DAS at length in previous episodes. Today we begin a dialogue, not about the effectiveness of the current system, but rather whether or not the current system is fair. This is in response to recent posts on social media from travel agents specializing in Disney vacation-planning who expressed frustration regarding some of their clients’ response to the current system. Unlike the previous system of accommodation, the DAS does not provide accellerated access to attractions for guests with disabilities.

It should be noted that Maureen and I are speaking as parents of children on the severe end of the Autism Spectrum. Naturally, this has affected our own experiences and our personal opinions. Opinions of Special Mouse listeners regarding this question were requested and permission to share was granted.

Some points covered in this episode are:

Accommodations for Disney Park guests with special needs are now provided based upon specific criteria and many people “fall through the cracks.” Guests with challenges related to mobility/endurance are advised to rent a wheelchair or scooter if they do not already have one and the alternate entrance accommodation is provided if a queue is not wheelchair-accessible. Guests who find it difficult to wait in a standard queue environment due to cognitive/sensory issues are offered the DAS, which provides not accellerated access, but a “virtual wait” (Details regarding services for guests with disabilities can be found on Disney’s official website.)


What is “fair?” Is “fair” the same as “equal?”

Equal vs Fair


Was the DAS created to be fair for Disney park guests with disabilities or fair for “all of our guests?” (Meaning, the guests who do not require accommodations for disabilities.)

We discuss society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities. Has the GAC/DAS issue fostered an “us against them” mentality between typical guests and guests with disabilities and their families? Do guests with disabilities feel “entitlement?” Are guests without disabilities insensitive to the needs of others? Is accommodating the needs of the disabled fine and dandy UNTIL it is perceived to impact the non-disabled guest experience?

Does one size fit all when it comes to accommodations for special needs? (DAS or Mobility Device.) After all, that one glass slipper didn’t fit every foot!

Special Accommodations for Specific Circumstances

DAS, with its virtual wait, will accommodate many of our Guests with disabilities. We recognize, however, that our Guests with disabilities have varying needs, and we will continue to work individually with our Guests to provide assistance. In unique situations, our Guest Relations staff will discuss special accommodations for persons who are concerned DAS doesn’t meet their needs (e.g., those whose disability limits the duration of their visit to the park or limits their choice of attractions).

Are guests’ individual needs taken into account when additional accommodations are requested as promised by Disney in October of 2013? Or is additional accommodation “one-size-fits-all” as well? (Individual attraction re-admission pass (essentially one additional FastPass) that must be requested daily and on an individual basis.)


Does anxiety and stress related to the DAS system (huge change for a population that finds change extremely difficult, anxiety related to fear of not being granted the DAS or that the DAS will not meet a family member’s needs, inconsistency among Disney Cast Members in provision of DAS accommodation, etc.) have a negative effect on the special-needs family’s vacation experience?

We reference Special Mouse Episode 50: Disney DAS Card Survey Results to note that about half of respondents said the DAS accommodation met their family’s needs while the other half said it did not. Again, does one size fit all in this situation?

Listener comments included in this episode:

Bruce Sherman: Those with mobility issues like myself, the answer to our issue is not a wheelchair. Too many queues can only handle a wheelchair, especially in the Magic Kingdom. So to say, hey you dont need DAS, use a wheelchair, is telling us, no, you cant ride this attraction.

Helen Thomas: Now we have used DAS I can see how to some it will work well and to others it may not solve the issues they have. Last time we were here we had the Guest Assistance Card. We used it like the DAS anyway as we had no issue with coming back after the standby time. We did see some people abusing the system and this did rankle with us as the pass was an assistance tool, not so you can jump queues. The DAS is working well for us and making our trip easier and less stressful and it fits in with our reasons we need it, but I can imagine that it will not work for some people with sensory issues or who have a particular ride that they will only go on, and struggle with having to wait. I don’t think you can please all the people all of the time plus sadly, there are people out there who will abuse things and ruin them for the rest.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is all food for thought; we will continue with part two of our discussion next week.

Thanks for listening,



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Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland – 079



Brad Levy, Event Director, discusses the 3rd annual Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland – 11.05.2015

“This amazing day at Disneyland was founded to unite the epilepsy community, to bring epilepsy out of the shadows, and to stomp out epilepsy stigma. We can inspire a nation in which 1:26 people will have epilepsy in their lives by bringing awareness and stories of wonderful people working and playing together.”


…and providing days of inclusion and joy!

Epilepsy Awareness and Education Expo – 11.04.2015 – Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel

The FREE expo was added to put patients and families together with Epilepsy professionals, in order to get everyone as much support as possible. The EXPO features over 80 Non-Profit support groups, several hospital Epilepsy Centers, Pharma companies, Epilepsy devices and more!


Please visit the above link for official information about Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland!

For event information, contact Candy Levy, Event Coordinator at

For sponsorship information, contact Brad Levy, Event Director at

Thanks for listening!





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DVC Rental: Pros & Cons for Special Needs Families 077

DVC Logo


Our family has been Disney Vacation Club (DVC) owners for ten years and as a special-needs family, we love it for so many reasons. Not everyone has the desire or the means to purchase a DVC contract, but there ARE ways for non-owners to experience the DVC resorts without paying exorbitant rack rates — by renting DVC points. In today’s feature I’m chatting with my good friend John Saccheri, also known as The Big Fat Panda, about the pros and cons of DVC rental for special needs families.

Some points we discuss are:


  1. Amenities: More space, Full Kitchen (special diets, longer getting ready in morning, larger groups), laundry in-room (need I say more?), separate BR for parents, often a second bathroom in 1 Bedroom, (always in 2 or 3 BR.) Whirlpool tub for sensory-seeking (pressure) or for stressed-out moms and dads!
  2. Price. Expect to pay 1/2 to 1/3 less for a DVC rental, depending on the price per point.
  3. Availability. Renters may have ability to access hard-to-get DVC villas months before they’re available to anyone else.


  1. (Private DVC Owner) Most private owners rent for $10 to $12 per point, depending on the resort and time of year. They’ll make the reservation for you and deal directly with DVC, so your entire reservation is in their hands. (Arranging Magical Express, Dining Plan, etc.) You have to give the owner your credit card info. Check Disney Message Boards for recommended owners, get references.
  1. (Points broker) Use a reputable broker. The points broker will be dealing with the owner and the owner will contact DVC for your requests. Disney will not talk to the points broker, so he is essentially a go-between.

You’ll want to make sure that there are alternatives available to you in the event you need to cancel your reservation. Some owners and brokers will work with you, but make sure you verify this in writing before you rent.

Good idea to Purchase Travel Insurance.

For official information about Disney Vacation Club (DVC) visit the Disney Vacation Club website.

If you’d like to explore the DVC resorts from the comfort of your laptop or phone, John is compiling some amazing videos of the resorts for his Youtube sponsor, David’s Vacation Club Rentals! Check them out HERE.


DVC youtube-videos


Tip of the Week:

This week I’m answering a question about the DAS or Disability Access Service.

Diane asks: “What do you do regarding the electronic DAS if you don’t have a smart phone? Is a smart phone or tablet absolutely necessary now?”

Good news, Diane! The My Disney Experience app is not required when using the DAS. When issuing your return time, the attraction CM will scan your Magic Band, entering the time into the system. Without the app you will simply need an alternate way to keep track of your return times throughout the day. You can take a digital picture of the CMs handheld device that shows your DAS return time or go “old school” by writing yourself a note with good old pen and paper.

Thanks for listening!



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Disney Bus Transportation for Guests using Wheelchairs and ECVs 076

The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round! Today we’re talking about wheelchairs, ECVs and special needs strollers on the Disney bus transportation system!



photo: WDW for Grownups

If you’re like me and you’re a Walt Disney World fan, you’ve probably racked up hundreds of rides on the Disney Bus System and that is the topic of today’s feature. It’s been ages since we’ve done a Listener Tea Party so I’ve invited three listeners (Mike Greer, Bruce Sherman and Meriwyn Travisano) to join me for a discussion about mobility and special needs on the Disney Bus Transportation System and believe me, we had a lot to talk about:

– Accessibility of Resort and theme park bus stops

– Safety Issues for wheelchairs and ECVs in transit

– Attitudes of non-disabled guests (including “Scooter Shaming”)

– Pediatric wheelchairs vs. regular strollers and the stroller-as-wheelchair tag on the Disney bus system

…and much more!


Be sure to read this Special Mouse BLOG concerning the options required for a pediatric wheelchair (special needs stroller) to be used safely on a Disney bus in transit!

Safe for Transit on Bus-

For more information about the Convaid pediatric wheelchairs mentioned in today’s show, please visit the official Convaid website.


According to At Disney Again: Pictures from Around the World, Disney has purchased new ECVs (electronic convenience vehicles) or scooters for rental in the Florida theme parks.  Several pictures of the spiffy new vehicles were posted on Instagram and it seems the new ECVs are equipped with a USB charger for your phone, allowing guests to power up their devices while they ride!

Thanks to listener Maureen Deal for sharing AND for confirming that the new ECVs are indeed in use at the Walt Disney World parks.

For information about ECV rental at the Walt Disney World resort, visit the Disney website.


Tip of the Week

This week’s tip comes from listener Lori Hope Fries!

If you are planning to use an ECV (or scooter) in the parks, bring along a shower cap to cover the controls, that way they are protected in case it rains.

Thanks, Lori – great tip!


And thank YOU for listening!



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Disneyland Resort and Cruising to Alaska on the DCL with a Power Wheelchair – 075



Feature conversation with Kelly DeBardelaben from Colorado Springs, Colorado. She’s here to chat with me about her Disney travels with her husband. He gets around using a power wheelchair because his mobility is affected by Cerebral Palsy. The couple has cruised to Alaska with the Disney Cruise Line AND vacationed at the Disneyland Resort in California and Kelly gives us the scoop on the wheelchair accessibility of both these Disney destinations.

Some of the things we discuss are:

Airport considerations for her husband’s power wheelchair

Accessibility and space requirements for resort rooms/cabins

Reasons she and her husband love using a Disney Travel Agent to help plan vacations

No grab rails in the accessible cabins on the Disney Wonder!

Kelly’s tip to avoid sticking to a toilet seat during bathroom transfers

Ability of adults to enjoy a kid-free Disney cruise

Off-ship excursions with a power wheelchair

Disneyland attractions that accommodate a power wheelchair

Disneyland attraction queues that accommodate a power wheelchair

Using a Service Dog in Disneyland

Teaching your child how to approach people in a power wheelchair or with a service dog


Tip of the Week:

This week we have a question about use of the Disability Access Service accommodation, or DAS, during the after-hours hard ticket events at Walt Disney World, namely, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.



(By the way, in case you are planning to do either of these parties in 2015, tickets are on sale now!)

A few Special Mouse Community Members who have attended these parties in the past 2 years have said that the DAS is NOT implemented during the hard ticket events.

First of all, DAS Return Times are generally procured when waits in the standby queue are 20 minutes or greater. The wait times rarely reach 20 minutes during the parties. In fact, FastPass queues aren’t even open.

After the day guests leave and the parties are in full swing (7pm), most of the partygoers are there for the special party offerings – the holiday parades, the special meet-and-greets, the unique stage shows, etc., and so if you are interested in doing rides, it is a fabulous time to visit the more popular attractions as the wait times are low, low, low (particularly during parades and fireworks.)

So, the short answer is no. The DAS is not used during the parties because, like FastPass+ reservations, it simply isn’t needed!

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

Thanks for listening!



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Special Needs Kids at the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique! 074



I have a super-fun special feature for you this week. We’re going behind the scenes at Cinderella Castle’s Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique with a recent graduate of the Disney College Program! As a Fairy Godmother-in-Training, Ellie had plenty of experience making magic for kids with special needs and she’ll be sharing some of her favorite memories of working at the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

Ellie is studying special education and speech, so she has a keen interest in families with special needs children. She writes a blog about her Disney College Program experience called Ellie Earns her Ears; recently she posted Be Prepared – Advice for Princesses with Special Needs. Here is a small sample of her advice:

  • When you meet your fairy godmother
    • Let her know about your child’s needs. You don’t need to give your child’s diagnoses, but letting her know that she is sensitive to sound, touch or smell is important. If your child feels more comfortable with her glasses on, address that (I wear glasses, so I know how important that is to me, but for fairy godmothers who don’t wear glasses, they may not be as quick to realize this), if your child wears hearing aids or has a cochlear implant, ask that the fairy godmother leaves them on for as much as the process as possible. If you know your child will have a hard time sitting, let her know, and she can try to get a buddy to make things easier for your child. Whatever your child’s needs are, let your fairy godmother know.
    • If your child is a cancer survivor, or has dealt with severe medical issues, your fairy godmother may be able to create some extra magic. Understandably, some families would rather not talk about these difficulties while on vacation. However, I can say that when families told me their personal struggles, I was able to create some personalized magic for those children that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, so it is worth mentioning if you feel comfortable.
    • If your child has allergies, ask to read the bottles of hair product. I’ve seen some parents be concerned about the detangler because it smells fruity, so it is worth reading if your child could have a reaction.


Photo: Disney

Photo: Disney


Tip of the Week:

This week’s tip is about a new MagicBand accessory available for purchase at the Walt Disney World Resort. Thanks to listener IRENE RODRIGEZ for sharing a blog posted this past week on This is a specialty fan website for collectors of graphic and rare Disney MagicBands, hosted by ETHAN ALLEN.








A new MagicBand accessory was released on June 26th called a MagicBand Keeper. These are stuffed accessories that come in the form of either a Mickey hand or a Minnie bow. Perhaps you’ve seen the big white Mickey glove that Disney Cast Members sometimes wave with? The glove looks like that and the Minnie bow looks like a stuffed red bow with white polka dots – cute

Your MagicBand connects around Mickey hand on the Keeper, like it would on someone’s wrist. On the bow, it wraps around the center portion. There is a plastic retracting spring and a plastic hook that connects the Keeper to your stroller, backpack or wheelchair. The Keeper makes it easier for a person to grab their MagicBand, touch the FP+ point, and let it snap back.

MagicBand Keepers are now available throughout the Walt Disney World Resort for $14.95: and although some feel this is way too pricey for an accessory, it is comparable to what the same-sized plush would cost in the parks.

I can definitely see this being used for a child or adult who has sensory issues and is adverse wearing the plastic MagicBand on the wrist, OR perhaps someone who lacks strength or coordination required to touch a wrist to a sensor point in just the right way for it to light up easily.

This may not be something that is of interest to everyone. For example, I can see a very young child not really caring whether Mom or Dad wears the MagicBand for him or carries it in a bag.  But, it could simply be a fun way to keep the Band handy so parents don’t have to keep reaching in and out of a diaper bag or back pack all day.

And if you’re talking about a teen or an adult who may NOT want someone else to carry the MagicBand for him, this could be a helpful tool for maintaining that all-important sense of independence and self-reliance. Keep that in mind.

Thanks for the tip, Ethan!

And if you are into collecting Disney MagicBands, please check out

Mousekeeping: If you would like to receive an email notification when Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide becomes available on, visit

Thanks for listening!




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New Food Allergy-Friendly Disney Menus with Allergy Free Mouse 073



It seems as though food allergies are really on the rise and in an informal survey that I conducted in the Special Mouse podcast Facebook group last week, I learned about some of the many food allergies our listeners have to manage on a daily basis.

For example, there were many who had allergies that are more common (such as tree nuts, peanuts, gluten or wheat, shellfish, eggs and milk) and many that are less common but just as problematic (such as red wine, lemons, bananas, mangos, chocolate, corn and even onions!) And, out of the twenty-something people who responded, eight have multiple food allergies. One mother shared that her son is allergic to 20 different foods! That is a lot to manage!

My featured guest on today’s show is Lizzie Reynolds from Allergy Free Mouse and we are chatting about the new food allergy-safe menus that have been popping up all over the Disney theme park and resort hotels restaurants, both table and quick service. We’ll also be giving you valuable tips for staying food allergy safe when dining with The Mouse!


(I decided to leave in an “interruption” by my son, Billy because — well — this is my life with a special-needs child!!)


The Disney Parks have completely banned the use of “selfie sticks.” If you’re not familiar, these are extendable metal sticks with a handle on one end and a clamp on the other end to hold a phone or camera in place so you take a picture of yourself.

Well, as of June 30th, they will no longer be allowed inside the parks. And, from what I’m told by Chrissie in the UK, that’s not just here in the U.S. but in Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo as well.

Margo from Portland, Oregon says “They’ll need to stop selling them in downtown Disney Stores, then. We just saw them in a store there yesterday. I would be quite peeved if I bought something on Disney property and then was told it wasn’t allowed.” Totally agree, Margo!

Personally, coming from a safety standpoint, I’m in favor of the new policy. My hats off to the hard-working security staff who now, in addition to checking bags for guns, knives and bombs, must spend their valuable time (and ours) looking for selfie-stick contraband.

So, what do you think? Are you for or against the new policy?

Tweet me @SpecialMousePod or post your answer on the Special Mouse Podcast Facebook page!

Tip of the Week

I routinely get questions about how to use the alternate entrance accommodation for guests who plan to use a wheelchair or scooter for endurance challenges – meaning, they have the ability to walk and transfer to standard attraction vehicles — who also require the DAS accommodation for a cognitive disability. The same applies to those using the stroller-as-wheelchair accommodation for children with sensory issues who will also be using the DAS.

Often I hear people complaining that there is “no consistency” regarding the implementation of these dual accommodations at the attractions; that they read on a certain forum or FB group that someone had a different experience then they did.

I can certainly understand how frustrating it is not to be able to find a definitive answer about combining the accommodations, but the search, quite honestly, is futile because there really isn’t one answer. This is due to several reasons, (1) Some attractions have queues that are physically accessible to wheelchairs while others do not, (2) These are changing all the time as more and more queues are being renovated to make them accessible (3) Queuing procedures can change from park to park, month to month and even throughout the DAY according to the individual attraction, how busy it is at the park, even with the weather!

Listener Debi Dame visits the parks with her daughter who has both physical and cognitive challenges and she says, “We’ve been on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train several times and have been loaded 3 different ways now, even on the same day!”

So, my tip for you is to anticipate changes in procedure. Communicate your needs to the attraction Cast Members, follow their instructions and try to remain flexible. The only time you should object is if it is a matter of safety. Remember, you WILL get to ride, and the most important thing is to keep you and your family safe while queuing up and boarding.

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

Thanks for listening!

Now you know that I rarely ask this, but, if you use iTunes to listen, would you kindly rate and/or review the Special Mouse Podcast? Reviews really do help boost the podcast in the iTunes directory, helping more people to find the show, and it’s easy to do.

You simply open your iTunes store app in your phone (or on your browser).

Type Special Mouse in the search box and click on it when it pops up.

Under the title you’ll see “ratings and reviews.” Click on it and leave your rating and or comments.

It’s as easy as that — thank you!

~ Kathy

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