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News for 2021:
- Disneyland Finally Scheduled to Reopen
- Planning and Executing Your Walt Disney World Vacation During These Trying Times
- 2021 Walt Disney World Armed Forces Salute Ticket Announcement
- Using Disney Armed Forces Salute Tickets in 2021
- Using the Walt Disney World Theme Park Reservation System
- Park Hopping Returns to Walt Disney World Starting in 2021
Everything is Different at WDW since it Reopened. See Our Trip Reports:
- 2022 Disney Armed Forces Salute Timeline
- Our Return to Walt Disney World (Aug/Sep 2020)
- Our Second Trip Back to Walt Disney World (Nov 2020)
- Our Third Trip Back to Walt Disney World (Jan 2021)
Recently, I became acquainted with Kathy Kelly who runs the Special Mouse website and podcast, which helps guests with Special Needs and Disabilities enjoy the Disney resorts.
I’ve long wanted to have information on Military Disney Tips for our wounded brethren who might need just a little assistance in navigating the complexities of Disney’s system for those with DisAbilities.
Kathy generously agreed to help out with the fantastic post which follows.
Disney Theme Park Accommodations for Guests with DisABILITIES
By Kathy Kelly, R.N.
“To all who come to this happy place — welcome! Disneyland is your land.”
Walt Disney, Disneyland Opening Day Speech, 1955
The Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts 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.
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. This is especially true for our military members and their families.
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!”
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:
- 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
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 allows Guests to use (backstage) locations for service animal relief areas. Please consult the Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities, for specific information.
Image: Mark Sumonka, Sgt USAF (RET) 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Disney’s scooters are expensive to rent, MDT suggests Amusement Park Rentals who offer military discounts!
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.
If the Guest has both a cognitive and a mobility disability, the Guest should request both accommodations.
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.
A Prosthesis Information Sheet is available at Guest Services. It will detail the restrictions in place for attractions for different types of prosthesis. These restrictions are different for each theme park. Cast Members operating attractions reserve the right to determine Guest safety on an individual basis. The deciding factor appears to be whether or not the Guest is able to be adequately restrained (on thrill rides) or is able to properly brace him-or herself, with or without the prosthesis.
Cast Members / Lifeguards who are operating the attractions at the water parks should have a laminated copy of the information sheet with them, but it has been reported that many do not. It is recommended that you keep a copy of the information sheet in a waterproof envelope / Ziploc of some sort. This will help prevent any confusion.
The Disney theme parks provide numerous accommodations for Guests with disabilities and special needs and Cast Members in Guest Relations are typically willing to discuss these needs on an individual basis.
If you require additional information about Services for Guests with disabilities at the Disney Resorts, please call:
Voice: (407) 560-2547
Disneyland TTY: (714) 781-4569
Walt Disney World TTY: (407) 827-5141
Kathy Kelly is a Registered Nurse and the Host of Special Mouse, an unofficial Disney travel podcast for guests with Special Needs and Disabilities. She has been visiting the Walt Disney World resort regularly over the past eleven years with her family, including her youngest child – now a teenager – who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is extremely proud of her father’s service in the United States Marine Corps.
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