Physically disabled travelers may be limited in their destination and activity options, but they often laud theme parks for their special accommodations. It’s not just permanently disabled guests who need these services. A kid could break a leg before a long-planned theme park vacation, or a grandparent who becomes overwhelmed by walking great distances could require a wheelchair for a day or two.
Families who travel with a child or any relative with physical or mental challenges can explore the available services at major theme parks and make their stay much easier and more fun.
Orlando Theme Parks
In Orlando, the ‘big 3’ of theme parks: Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld all take pains to accommodate guests in wheelchairs and with other disabilities. Disney World provides assistive listening systems, reflective captioning, sign language interpretation, text typewriter telephones, handheld captioning, video captioning and written aids for guests with hearing disabilities. They also make available audio description devices, Braille guidebooks and digital audio tours for the visually impaired.
Universal offers regularly scheduled, interpreted performances along with closed captioning and listening devices at many of its in-park shows.
SeaWorld and Disney World both offer rentals of wheelchairs and electric convenience vehicles (ECVs). Before your visit with a mobility challenged family member, refer to the extensive information in the SeaWorld Park Accessibility Guide, where you can make note of each ride's physical requirements. On many of the rides, wheelchair and ECV users can enter through the exit, but on others, they wait in the regular, accessible line. Some rides, like the paddle boat, require guests to transfer from a wheelchair and walk a short distance to a boat.
How Disneyland Improves the Experience for all Disabled
Karin Sheets, founder of and blogger at Special Needs Travel Mom has a blind, non-ambulatory and non-verbal daughter. Sheets recently traveled with her daughter to Disneyland, where they gave her family a pass for wheelchair access to rides.The whole family took advantage of the Special Access Lines, which Sheets said were easy to maneuver with a wheelchair and often had shorter wait times. Another benefit of the pass was front-row access to shows, which was especially helpful for Sheets's hearing-impaired daughter.
What did not work well were infrared audio description devices, which give descriptions of theme park rides. Sheets said this was actually her error in using the device, not Disney’s. The infrared transponder needs to be "line of sight" to the earpiece.
Nevertheless, Sheets gives kudos to Disney for having the devices, which are new to the park, and for following up about her experience. She said these are “really cool” devices and she appreciates that Disney is thinking about accessibility from multiple perspectives.
Other Potential Problems with or without a Wheelchair
I have never personally experienced a problem at Disney, but I did witness a serious snafu at Universal's Jurassic Park River Adventure. An elderly, obese woman was on the river raft ride, and when it came time to get off, she was too afraid to let go and exit the raft.
Universal Rides Guide describes this particular ride as being designed to easily accommodate wheelchair transfers and if fear was not a factor, it might be. After more than 20 minutes of waiting, three additional workers arrived and helped hoist the woman from the raft.
So we see the theme parks making every effort to accommodate all types of disabilities and assist visitors with different challenges, whenever they can.
For most traveling families tryng to cope with a disability, the answers will be there; sometimes you just have to look hard to find them. For more tips on coping with physical and social handicaps at theme parks, check out FTF's Guide to Overcoming Challenges at Walt Disney World.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.