Writer’s Note: This Accessibility at Disney article is in memory of my late brother, who passed away in January. Timmy was paralyzed from the chest down in a dirtbike accident when he was in high school. He did not let his disability slow him down. After taking his family to Walt Disney World several times, we discussed writing an article about people with disabilities traveling to Walt Disney World. His wife and I have decided to honor his memory and his love of Disney with this Q/A post sharing some of their experiences.
For more information from The Walt Disney Company please check out this link explaining the Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card. Always check with Cast Members in the park for any changes to their policies regarding visible and “invisible” disabilities to make the most of your family’s vacation!
What are some of your concerns or worries while planning the first trip to Walt Disney World?
How are the Accessible Rooms? Are they spacious enough?
We have only stayed at the Value Resorts accessible rooms and I’d say they are comparable to any chain hotel wheelchair room. The main difference is the roll in shower, which makes the bathroom feel much larger. We did get a free upgrade to two hotel rooms when our party had four adults. We were booked at All Star Sports, and the only wheelchair room available had a king size bed.
Caroline recently stayed in an accessible 1 bedroom villa at Disney’s Kidani Village and she says there is an incredible amount of extra space to accommodate guests in a wheelchair.
Is it difficult navigating Disney transportation in a Wheelchair?
I will say, the monorail is not as magical for manual chairs because the ramps are so steep. Even the most in-shape chair user would have difficulty climbing those mountains. And it’s a workout to push an adult up the ramp. As for going down the ramps, it’s easy, but look out below because it’s difficult to not exceed 20 mph! Try not to run anyone over. The exception to this would be any monorail resort because they are built with the second level at monorail height, so you can take the elevator.
Guests in wheelchairs/scooters get to board the bus first, which is a plus! This allowed Tim the ability to turn and position the chair without the fear of bumping into anyone. The bus driver will also have access to the straps needed to secure the chair, without any crowds. The rest of the party (up to 5 people) is usually allowed to board along with the wheelchair or scooter.
We did have a magical bus moment. We were loading a bus to get to the Polynesian Village Resort via Disney Springs. The driver asked where we were headed, and drove us there with no other guests on the bus. It was like our own Cinderella carriage!
Is it difficult transferring from a wheelchair to a ride?
Disney is the most accessible park I’ve ever visited and I frequent theme/amusement parks. There are special accessibility maps that show if you must transfer or can stay in your chair. You get an accessibility pass on many rides, which work similarly to the old paper fast pass system. Just go to the Cast Member at the accessible entrance and ask for a pass to return. This helps a lot when disabled guests can’t get around as fast as the average person. Make sure you don’t use your regular fast pass for these rides because you don’t have to!
DIStracted Tip: Lisa and her traveling mama also shared their experiences with ride loading and transfers in Tips on How to Travel “The World” with Seniors.
Manual wheelchairs are able to go on more rides than scooters, but most rides offer a park chair you can transfer to in order to avoid transferring into a ride seat. The only rides that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who can’t take more than 1 step would be Mad Tea Party and Peter Pan’s Flight. Any show type attractions will have special seating for wheelchair guests plus their party. There are always handicap sections roped off for any parade or outside show; ask a cast member, because they seem to change sporadically. Any thrill type ride will require you transfer to a ride seat, but be sure to ask for the special car that has a door that changes into a bench. We learned that some cast members aren’t aware of these and actually broke one of the cars on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad transferring over the side (Oops!).
Are there any particularly difficult transfers?
Rides that are difficult to transfer into, particularly if you have no lower body mobility, are Dinosaur!, Test Track, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain. If you can easily take at least one step you shouldn’t have any problems with Dinosaur!, but Splash Mountain and Space Mountain both are really low to the ground and take lots of upper body strength to transfer out of the cars. The cast members aren’t allowed to touch the guest but can hold the chair, so don’t worry about only being in a party of two! You can help transfer while the cast member holds the chair. Depending on crowd levels, you may also ask to ride a second time. On some rides if the wait isn’t too long, a Cast Member may allow you to stay in your car for a second round.
Any additional suggestions?
My advice to anyone taking a Disney Vacation, RESEARCH and PLAN! Start as early as possible!