Friday, January 18, 2013

Disney Day 3: Disney embraces disabilities

If you're not familiar, the ADA is also known as the Americans With Disabilities Act.  In a nutshell, it requires that public areas be accessible to folks with disabilities.  There are a ton of construction codes and such associated with the ADA and there have been many famous lawsuits associated with folks with disabilities not having access to public areas.  I would assume it's costly to "do it right" to make things available to folks with disabilities, but I would guess that the costs with retrofitting areas would be even more expensive.

I will say that Orlando, in general, seems very accessible to folks with limited mobility.  Most handicap stalls have their own sink.  In some restrooms, this is extremely helpful and provides the opportunity to avoid the crowd at the sink.  Well, one hopes there is a crowd at the sink.  WASH YOUR HANDS, PEOPLE!  That's all I'm saying. 

Our hotel is exclusive to members of the military and their guests.  It should not have been a surprise to me, but was, when I looked at each of the pools and the was a lift in place.  Why wouldn't military folks with mobility issues want to swim??  I can say I haven't seen it in use, but that is probably because we are here in January when the water temp is a balmy 70 something degrees.  Air temperature, that's perfect.  Water temp...not so much. 

Each of the times we have visited Disney, we have visited with a family member with mobility issues.  We rent a scooter while we are down here and away we go.  (I should note here, because we take shuttles from our hotel, I do not know what the handicapped parking situation looks like.)  All Disney shuttle buses are kneeling buses equipped with ramps.  Once on the bus, there are places where the scooters and wheelchairs can be locked in for the guests' safety.  Each bus driver seems knowledgeable about the various wheelchair/scooter types and are extremely willing to facilitate getting the equipment on the bus.  This is extremely helpful and shows how mobility issues of any kind are widely seen at Disney.

Within the park itself, where you see steps, you see ramps close by.  Entrance and exit turnstiles are wide enough to accommodate scooters and wheelchairs.  If for some reason, you forgot your wheelchair at home, wheelchairs are available for rent at Disney Guest Services.  Aisles in stores easily accommodate wheelchairs and scooters, and, for instance, walking down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, you'll see at least ten scooters scoot scoot scooting along.

Okay, so all of that is standard.  So why am I so impressed by Disney's acceptance of folks with disabilities?  Well, to keep me organized (and succinct), I'll list it in bullet point format:

  1. For many rides, folks requiring wheelchairs get skip the line privileges.  If the waiting line cannot accommodate a wheelchair or scooter, there is always a side entrance where the guest (and their guests) skip straight to the head of the line to wait for the next available car. 
  2. Apparatus are provided so folks with mobility disabilities are able to ride.  A dad without use of his legs wanted to ride on the Mad Hatter's teacups with his daughter.  No problem says Disney.  They had a special car and a special ramp so the dad only needed to wheel his chair to the platform, climb on the platform and into the car.  Did it delay the ride by a couple of seconds while they made sure he had a clear path to get in and out?  Yup.  But! nobody waiting complained (as it should be) and he got to ride on the best ride (in KIC's opinion) at Disney.
  3. Not only does Disney accommodate guests with disabilities, they also hire folks with disabilities.  I saw wheelchair bound entrance gate cast members and encountered a deaf clerk in a store.  There wasn't anything to indicate the clerk was deaf, though her counterpart would explain when necessary.  She was just a person, working in a store in the happiest place on Earth. 
  4. I have heard (though have not experienced for myself) that folks with children with certain types of disabilities have been granted free entrance for the child (and maybe even the family) for life.  Not only will Disney accommodate folks with disabilities, they WELCOME and INVITE them.  For folks who don't have experience with disabilities, this means nothing.  But I think this makes a difference for the families who do have experiences with disabilities. 
During our stay, we saw many different types of disabilities partaking in the activities Disney offers.  From the frail young woman dressed as Mary Poppins taking pictures with her favorite characters, to the little girl with a walker who zoomed through the park, each one was having a magical experience, which is as it should be.  And incredibly, it was as if it was a day in the park for Disney. 

Well played, Disney, well played.

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