The “happiest place on earth” can be challenging when you are caring for someone with a disability, but if you know the tools that are available to you, it is not as bad as you think. The Disney Theme Parks strive to make each guest experience truly magical, so here are a few things that they have in place to help those with disabilities enjoy their vacation.
In the past, anyone could purchase a wheelchair rental and basically skip a large portion of the wait time for an attraction. Due to the abuse of this and the abuse of the Guest Assistance Card, a new policy is in place to be fair to everyone. Basically, if you need a wheelchair, you do not need a Disability Access Service (DAS) card. You will be allowed to use the wheelchair (or stroller) in the stand-by or fast pass line. If you cannot sit through the wait of the line, you will need the DAS card, and you will be given a return time that would be comparable to the current stand-by or fast pass (if you have one for that attraction) wait time.
For guests that have disabilities that may not be visible or for those that must consider the amount of time either in a queue or total time at the park due to a disability, it is possible to obtain a DAS card by stopping by Guest Relations near the entrance of each park. Disability Access Service is given on an individual basis after a brief registration process with a Guest Relations Cast Member. You will not need to bring proof of the disability. You will be held to the Honor System as you answer questions about the condition. Once granted you will have access for up to 14 days, based on your tickets, so you will not need to come back for re-evaluation during your stay, unless it is more than 14 days. This access is attached to everyone in the party. However, to use it at an attraction, the person needing the DAS must be with the party. Due to this, it is important to have the ticket media for each person in the party available at registration so that they can be electronically associated to the DAS party.
There are other useful features throughout the parks for those with disabilities, including sensory processing disorders. Here are few tips:
- Bring a name tag or identity bracelet.
- Bring earplugs or headphones, for areas and shows that are loud.
- Download the official Walt Disney World guide explaining all of the resources that are available at the Walt Disney World Parks, including quiet areas, family restrooms and attraction descriptions highlighting the things that you would be concerned about, including smells, noises and surprises.
- Create a loose itinerary and go over it together.
- Look at maps of the parks and choose a meeting location. Learn the maps as best as you can so that you will be faster at finding things when you get there. Talk about what to do if you should become separated. When you arrive at the parks, go over this again showing exactly what the meeting location looks like.
- Watch videos of the parks, shows and rides to get an idea of what to expect. You can find these online.
- Bring a favorite activity or device (iPad, Kindle, etc) to help keep them occupied during long queues.
- Bring extra snacks to keep the hunger monsters away 😃
- Bring a sensory toy to keep hands occupied.
There are many reasons for disabilities in life. I was able to see first-hand how Disney tries to give each guest a magical experience. We took my mother to Disney World while she was in the end stage of COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Her special challenges, with oxygen and severe shortness of breath, limited her time in the parks. We used the Disability Access Service, and it helped us tremendously. We were also able to store extra oxygen in Guest Services at each park, in case we ran out. We also used the Family Restrooms so that I could help her.
My advise to you would be to learn as much as you can about each park. Know your way around before you get there by looking at the maps for each park available online under the Parks & Tickets tab, and if you need more information call Disney directly at (407)939-5277.
I hope that these tips will help you to have a truly magical experience at Walt Disney World. We would love to hear how your trip goes. Please let us know in the comments.
*My experience has been with Walt Disney World in Florida. However, if you need information for any other Disney Park, I would like to encourage you to seek it out on their official websites by searching “guests with disabilities.”