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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.

 

10943216_933854013293375_1294259386_o

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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The Easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit with Dave Shute – 041

The-easy-Guide

 

Dave Shute, creator of Your First Visit discusses the process of writing  The Easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit with fellow theme park strategist, Josh Humphrey, creator of Easy WDW.  The book was tailored-made to meet the needs of the first-time (and perhaps one-time) visitor to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. 

Dave shares a few tips on saving “time, money and effort” when planning a Disney vacation and in our discussion we emphasize the importance of pre-trip planning, especially for guests with special needs. This is the first 2014 WDW guidebook to include comprehensive coverage of FastPass+ system, “with sample itineraries and simple instructions for designing your own.”

The book, published by Theme Park Press,  is available at AMAZON.COM in both Paperback and Kindle formats. 

Since Josh was not available to join in the show, I’ve highlighted his website, EasyWDW in our Tip of the Week feature. I’ve used his free crowd calendars as part of my Walt Disney World trip-planning for years and they have never steered me wrong!

You can connect with Dave Shute on Twitter @yourfirstvisit and with Josh Humphrey @easyWDW.

Thanks for listening!

~ Kathy

This episode of Special Mouse was brought to you by Amy at Up and Up Travel – a Disney Travel Agency dedicated to assisting guests with special needs, and by Scooter Vacations – serving Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

 

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Beta Testing the DAS Card with Fast Pass+ at Walt Disney World

Florida resident and WDW annual passholder Mark Vitek discusses his family’s first experience using Disney’s Disabilities Access Service Card (DAS) with the My Magic Plus FastPass reservation system. Mark and his wife have a 14-yr old son who has Autism. Overall, they had a positive experience at the Disney Hollywood Studios theme park.

This episode is sponsored by Amy from Up and Up Travel

Walt Disney World Disability Relations holds a weekly DAS committee meeting and they use that meeting to plan for the future of the program. They review all guest communications and discuss them at these meetings. Send your email to WDW.Guest.Communications@disneyworld.com; address it to Disability Relations in the subject line. Specify that it for a DAS concern and 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. The Cast Member that called Mark spent about an hour on the phone with Mark.

“Additional accommodations are the same as they were always meant to be.” Mark says.  “They are on a guest-by-guest, day-by-day and Park-by-Park basis. The only change is that there will be no notes in guest files anymore “guaranteeing” a certain accommodation. It all depends on how busy any Park is on any given day, how many attractions that Park has available and how much those accommodations are needed by that particular Guest. And she stressed that no Cast Member should ever be saying that there is nothing they can do, and if you hear that, ask to speak to a Manager immediately, as there is always something they can do. It might be re-ads, and they are allowed to give up to 3 sets at a time. Or it may be as simple as giving you your first return time while at the GR desk if the Park isn’t busy. How she put it to me is to simply state that you are using your FastPass and using your DAS but it just isn’t enough and you’d like just something extra to help with your day.”

You can connect with Mark on Twitter @DisFanMark. Please visit Mark and Jen’s blog, Wishes and Pixie Dust.

The Special Mouse Tip of the Week is for guests recovering from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a chronic, lifelong disease that requires continuous and lifelong treatment. It can be tempting to take a break from a program of recovery while on vacation.

It is important to plan ahead. Bring your recovery literature; the books come in travel-size.

Continue with your meetings. You’re not traveling to some remote desert island! Meetings are available locally in both the Orlando, FL and Anaheim, CA areas.  Research the locations, dates and times of meetings before your trip. There are several apps you can purchase for your phone to help you locate them. I Googled “Apps to locate Alcoholics Anonymous meetings” and several popped up. One example is available in both iTunes and in Google Play for android Devices: Steps Away-Locate Worldwide 12 Step Meetings. There are also local resources that can help you find meetings and hotlines. For the WDW area, look up Central Florida Intergroup. In the DL area, Orange County AA.

Lastly, nothing beats keeping in contact with your existing support system. Have phone numbers and email addresses for your sponsors and fellow group members. Tell them in advance that you are going on vacation and arrange to connect with someone at the end of each day. This will help you to keep yourself accountable for your actions.

Between meetings, literature and calls to sponsors you can remain focused on your recovery while on your Disney vacation.

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I’d love to chat with you on social media! Special Mouse is on Twitter @SpecialMousePod and on Facebook: Special Mouse Podcast. If you’d like to join our Community Group on Facebook, kindly leave a message on the Special Mouse page and I will contact you!

Thanks for listening,

Kathy

 

 

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