Saturday, May 9, 2015

Special Needs at Disney

We did a little research about Disney's accommodations for kids with special needs to prepare for our trip. We are glad that are needs are limited with Johnny, but there were a few concessions we needed. These are what we were offered and what we used, other families may need more or less depending on their situation. 

First, we absolutely needed the ability to use his stroller as a wheelchair. We would not have been able to do Disney without it. Being able to take him into shows, through certain lines, and, in general, our comfort, depended on using the stroller as much as possible. We did not use it the entire time, we held him quite a bit, but as a 2.5 year old boy who is wiggly but cannot walk or even stand to provide us with some relief, we needed the assistance provided by our stroller. We were issued a red tag to use for the duration of our trip and did have to show it quite a bit as people ushered us to stroller parking instead of to the line or ramps we were searching for. Additionally, we did get some dirty looks and comments from people who didn't understand why we could use our stroller and they couldn't use theirs. This didn't faze us. They don't know our circumstances so I ignored them. 

Not only was the stroller useful for general ease of navigating the park and lines, it was imperative for Johnny to take a nap so we could spend all of our time at the parks. Our double stroller is amazing and is only slightly longer than a standard single stroller and not any wider. His seat easily reclined back and has a large shade so he could snooze for an hour or two all three days we were at the Disney parks. Even if we hadn't been allowed to use the stroller as a wheelchair, we still would have brought it for this reason alone. It was nice to have a space for the girls to climb in and out of too, with the additional seat, and Keegan slept at Magic Kingdom as well!

Having this wheelchair tag also provided an additional benefit we needed and that was aisle seats for shows in case Johnny was overstimulated or overwhelmed by anything we saw. He doesn't have huge issues with it, but we've noticed large crowds and loud noises set him off easily. Additionally, we learned on the trip that 3-d, even without the glasses, freaks him out. Each time we saw a 3-d show he clamored to be in my lap and buried his head into me to avoid seeing it. Sometimes that meant we sat in the back and sometimes that meant front row seats, neither mattered to us (although front row was great for The Lion King and the Frozen Sing along), but having the ability to easily grab him and leave if I needed to was important. We never had to, but we were close a few times. 

    (Back of the theater for Indiana Jones
      and Fantasmic)

     (Front for Frozen Sing Along)

We also had access to an old style fast pass. This option allowed us to check into any ride Johnny was able to come with us on, have a "wait" time written down for our family, and we could return to the faster line at that point. We could only have one ride waiting at a time. Mainly, this was so we could park the stroller outside the ride and quickly get on and off. Honestly, because of how young he is, we only used it three times. All the other kid rides were easy to wait in line for. I can see how this would be beneficial to have if we return when he is older. While we work hard to show all of our kids appropriate behavior and work on it with each of them, I can see where the chance to ride a ride with a space to wait outside could be beneficial for Johnny. 

Another accommodation we needed but is given to anyone was the chance to bring in outside food, a soft cooler, and an ice pack for Johnny's medicine. It's nice that this corporation still allows outside food, especially with Johnny being a somewhat selective eater. I was able to pack food that I knew he would eat and we obviously needed two doses of his medicine chilled for the entire day. It was also nice to have snacks and a small meal for all of us, so huge kudos to Disney for helping us stay in our budget!

Lastly, I cannot say enough for the general attitude and positivity I saw at Disney towards all people, but especially those with special needs. Time and time again, all three of my kids were given love and had kindness shown to them at the parks, but extra steps were taken for kids and adults with special needs. Each character spent more time with Johnny and others with obvious special needs. Several princesses were so gentle and warm towards our sweet boy. Both Cinderella and Merida took several extra minutes with him, even after several minutes with the girls, to love on him and talk to him. Cast members were patient and welcoming to people needing extra assistance. And the overall attitude of everyone was one of inclusion. At the Lion King show, there is a parade for kids selected from the audience and one cast member selected and pushed a child in a wheelchair through the parade, helping he sing and clap along to the music, all the while dancing and keeping up with everyone else. 

     (Kisses from Cinderella)

The best moment for us occured, not to our own family, but one directly in front of us. As we waited in line to see the talking Mickey, I noticed a family with an older (late teens) boy with special needs. While his diagnosis may not have been clear, his love for Disney was, evident in his bright Mickey hoodie, t-shirt, and Captain Jack Sparrow/Mickey ears. When it was his turn, the delight that came over him, was a wonderful thing to watch. But even more so, was the response and diligence that Mickey and his helpers took to make this boy's experience special. He asked the boy several questions and then noticed his pirate ears. They the took turns saying "argh" like pirates and posed for several pictures like that. The pleasure on the parents' faces and the happiness on the boy's face was an opportunity I felt blessed to observe. I think that is what makes Disney so special, not that it works to give everyone a perfect day, but that it trains each person that works there to take small moments and turns them into unique experiences. How many people can say they love Mickey and Captain Jack Sparrow so Mickey took the time to pose and talk like a pirate for them? The hug that boy shared with Mickey was almost better to watch than my own kids' hugs with him. It encompassed all the reasons I knew we would be fine to take Johnny along with us. It also made my appreciation for Disney grow because I know this wasn't an isolated incident or something contrived. It was genuine and something that they are diligent at doing, at making magic for everyone. 

1 comment:

Beth said...

I am a huge fan of Disney world for family trips, and loved reading about your observations of the cast members! If you haven't already, you can write customer relations here ( to share your experience with the Cinderella and talking Mickey. If you remember the days you saw them, they'll be able to track down the cast member, share your gratitude, and note it on their official record. It goes a long way toward helping them promote from within, plus they live for making magic happen for families :) So glad to hear how accommodating Disney was for you guys and a great time was had! :)