Disney is for everyone, regardless of age, one’s station in life, or what physical or mental handicaps a person may have. And Disney Parks all over the world maintain a stellar reputation for accommodating any person’s very specific needs, with caring and committed Cast Members forever devoted to making any Disney vacation you take a most magical experience for all in your party to enjoy.
Perhaps you dream of going on a Walt Disney World vacation but hesitate due to the fact that you or someone in your traveling party has special needs. Well, don’t put a pin in your Disney World vacation plans just yet, because a wonderful vacation is awaiting you beyond anything you could have ever imagined. Here’s a detailed look into everything you need to know about going to Disney World with a disability.
Booking Resort Accommodations
In consulting with my good friend with cerebral palsy, who has traveled many times over the years and needed to make overnight accommodations at various hotels, she’s put together a points list of the things to keep in mind when making arrangements at any hotel:
- Make sure that the room(s) you are booking are accessible to exits and preferably on ground level.
- Get a detailed map or floor plan for your accommodations so that you can locate all exits and emergency/evacuation routes.
- Find out about the vendors and special third-party services your hotel provides or if there are any limits/restrictions on preferred outside assistance you may require.
- Find out any specific disability policies that are in place and what they can and cannot do upfront.
While this is a generalized list for those traveling with disabilities to keep in mind, Disney Resorts are excellent in adhering to all the above. So, you are never left wondering or in doubt about any of these broader questions you’d be likely to ask if opting for a non-Disney designation in the greater Orlando area.
Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS)
The Walt Disney Company’s Disability Access Service (DAS for short) is a complimentary service designed specifically for Guests with disabilities to make the most of the Parks and enjoy all they have to offer. Initially, it allows Guests access to ride rides and explore attractions via a reservation queue setup, omitting any long wait times or standing in long lines. The way it works is that Guests who are utilizing Disability Access Service present their DAS cards at the main entrance of any attraction to the operating Cast Member on duty. That Cast Member then issues a slated DAS return time block based on the attraction’s current wait time. Those returning during their reserved time typically will enter via the marked Lightning Lane queue unless otherwise instructed. While you are only issued a single DAS return reservation at a time, the rider switch option is usually available for other members of your party.
Signing Up for DAS
DAS is available upon request at each Guest Service location within all Disney theme parks and water parks. You may also make DAS selections through the My Disney Experience app via Disney Genie.
If requesting DAS in person, you may go to Guest Relations at a given Disney Park (located near the entrance), where a knowledgeable Cast Member will take you through the process, which includes having your photo taken and setting you up with your Disney DAS Pass. Guests are not required to present proof of their disability, nor do they need to present a doctor’s note or similar documentation.
Using the My Disney Experience app to sign up for DAS is essentially done as a virtual registration process, which includes a live video chat with a Disney Cast Member. You need not wait until the time of your trip to complete the process, as enrollment via this format may be done two to 30 days in advance. What’s more, when signing up via the My Disney Experience, you may choose two return times for each day of your trip in advance.
Wheelchairs and ECVs
While DAS was designed specifically with the consideration of Guests who are unable to stand in long lines in mind, those navigating the Parks in either a wheelchair or ECV typically do not use DAS. But there is still a lot to know about wheelchairs and ECVs at Disney just the same. For example, even though Guests in wheelchairs or those getting by via ECV normally use the same standard queues as all Guests, there are sometimes alternate wheelchair-accessible entrances available at various attractions to help them be better situated and seated on a given attraction.
As for obtaining a wheelchair or ECV while visiting Walt Disney World Resort, you have several options. You may decide to bring your own, of course. Just be sure that it does not exceed the required 32” x 52” maximum if you plan on using Disney Transportation. Rentals are also available at any Disney World theme park location as well as at Disney Springs. Do keep in mind, though, that all rentals are on a first-come, first-served basis and may not be reserved in advance.
A tertiary option would be to consider renting from a third-party vendor. Doing so enables you to have your rental with you throughout the entire duration of your trip, as in-Park Disney rentals may not leave the limits of the location in which you are renting from. In most cases, outside vendors provide their own delivery and pickup to your Resort per arrangement. You may choose your own or pick from one of Disney’s own featured vendors.
As mentioned previously, wheelchairs and ECVs are not transferable from Park to Park. So, for those who may be Park Hopping, it is a good idea to retain your rental receipt when you return the chair or ECV at the first Park and then show it at the next one in order to avoid being double charged for a rental fee.
For the Hearing Impaired
Walt Disney World does plenty in the way of accommodating the needs of those who are deaf or hard of hearing. In providing additional services to enhance Disney Resort stays for the hearing impaired, they offer the following: Door-knocking phone alerts, phone amplifiers, bed-shaker notifications, strobe light smoke detectors, and a text typewriter telephone.
For a fully refundable deposit of just $25, Disney also provides Guests with the option to rent out a special assistive handheld device throughout the duration of their visit. These devices offer two services for those who are hearing impaired—assistive listening and handheld captioning.
Hearing-impaired visitors to Disney Parks may also enjoy most rides and attractions via altered accommodating experiences that enable them to follow along with the intended plot or storyline. Those who are hard of hearing, for example, may obtain an amplification device or headphones when applicable. Also, for those with handheld devices, they may read along with closed captioning. There is also video captioning in some instances, particularly where there are pre-show introductions.
Reflective Captioning is a newer service that many of Disney’s theater-style attractions are now providing in addition. In these cases, there is an LED display projecting captions over a live show or film to let Guests read along without needing to check their devices.
Sign Language interpretation is also available at most live shows on a rotating basis. Additionally, Guests may schedule an interpreter for shows in advance by notifying Guest Relations or by emailing WDPRsignlanguageservices@disney.com or calling 407-824-4321.
On one final note, in the event that you ever need assistance from a Cast Member who is ASL proficient, this will be stated on their name tag buttons.
For the Visually Impaired
Those same handheld devices used for the hearing impaired may be used for those visitors to Disney World who are blind or have visual limitations. In these instances, the devices provide supplemental audio at most attractions, offering up descriptions of the visual elements, actions, scenery, and other important factors to the storyline or plot as it plays out.
There are also printed guidebooks in large text as well as those in braille available through Guest Relations at every Theme Park upon request. These require that you make a $25 daily deposit, which is entirely refundable. Guidebooks feature descriptions of attractions, restaurants, stores, and many other additional Disney landmarks and venues in addition.
Guests will also find stationary braille maps throughout all Disney World Parks as well as at Disney Spring and even the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. These maps also include large print in addition to raised graphics to denote featured landmarks and attractions. Maps of this nature are normally found around each venue’s Guest Relations site. For those looking to have a portable braille map with them as they navigate, Guest Services provides these as well for a fully refundable $25 deposit. Upon request, table service restaurants throughout Disney World also have braille menus on hand.
Disney can accommodate a vast range of varying other disabilities and differences in addition. These include everything from assisting mentally handicapped individuals as well as those who require alternative neuro-developemental assistance. In most instances, Disney allows service animals (like dogs and miniature horses) into Parks in addition to most onsite venues. Click here to learn more about all the ways in which Disney can accommodate you or a particular member of your traveling party.
Every disability and challenge a Guest may face requires unique handling and accommodations for the situation at hand. And Disney does an exceptional job in meeting the needs and exceeding all expectations in servicing each and every single Guest accordingly. It’s a true testament to their care and commitment to making every single Disney experience as magical as can be.