DisneyWorld: The Not So Magic Kingdom
by Phil Daley © 1999
Phil Daley traveled to Orlando, Florida with a disabled friend and discovered that DisneyWorld isn't always such a magical place for disabled visitors.
My disabled friend and I recently went to Orlando, Florida's Walt DisneyWorld, so I thought I would pass on a few tips. We stayed at Sheraton World, which has adapted rooms with roll-in showers and grab handles. We did not have a problem with any of the facilities at the hotel -- although not all of the restaurant areas are accessible -- there are a few steps to certain parts. In high season, when demand for tables is high, it might mean having to wait. But, yes, overall we would recommend the hotel.
Transport - we did not hire a car and relied on the free shuttle buses. However, the accessible disabled vans must be booked 24 hours in advance. This once caught us out as our holiday representative said that all the buses were wheelchair accessible.
In Walt DisneyWorld itself, the park attendants are not allowed to assist someone transfer into or out of rides, so unless the disabled person is able to do the transfer or the helper is able to assist the disabled person unaided then some rides will be inaccessible. We also found that not many rides were able to accommodate a wheelchair in the Magic Kingdom. However, other parks (Epcot and Universal Studios) had specially designated wheelchair spaces on many rides. We were not refused permission on any rides at any of the parks so long as we could manage transfers unaided.
Some rides warned of potential problems when they consisted of sudden changes of speed/direction or flashing lights but the choice was left to the individual. Some rides, especially at Universal Studios, MGM Studios and Epcot even had specially adapted cabins to take a wheelchair direct. (although it should be noted that they would not take responsibility if the ride caused any damage to the wheelchair). We were most disappointed with the Magic Kingdom itself - we could not find a single ride (except for the side shows/live performances) where we could get on with the wheelchair, and a lot proved very difficult to negotiate for a transfer as they had narrow openings or a step over into the vehicle.
Toilets - as far as I can remember there are no unisex disabled toilets. They are all within the main Gents/Ladies. Also, many were just an extended cubicle which proved impossible if the disabled person needs assistance transferring. There are a few large cubicle rooms but not many.
All of the parks seemed to produce a booklet explaining the rides that were accessible and where the disabled toilets were. I would recommend the first stop at any of the parks to be Customer Services. Some parks automatically directed us to Customer Services on arrival, but others did not.
Editor's Note: Phil Daley is not alone in his assessment of Disney World. Recently, another Global Access reader sent us the following letter:
Dear Global Access:
My experience at DisneyWorld was very upsetting. I have a progressive neurological disability and wanted to go to DisneyWorld with my husband and 5 yr. old before I couldn't undertake a trip like this anymore. When I got there I found many, many, curbs, very few curb cuts, and 100 people standing on, in, and around those curb cuts. I couldn't keep up with them because of access problems and it was impossible for them to wait constantly for the crowds to part so that I could keep up with them. I found myself outside Magic Kingdom with tears streaming down my face, heart broken that my long awaited trip to Disney World with my little girl turned into such a disappointment. If you are in a power chair and can not transfer, Disney World may not be what you expect. Many years ago when I was still walking, I was at Disney World and I thought it was absolutely wonderful. What a difference going back and being in a wheelchair makes.
Resources for the Orlando Area
They handle the bookings of hotels, private villas, resorts and time-share properties. They provide airport transfers to anywhere in the State of Florida and daily transportation to the attractions, including gate admissions.
Handicapped In Walt DisneyWorld by Peter Smith was published in 1993 by South Park Publishing $10.95 but is now out of print. Amazon Books will, however, search for it for you.
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