Disney World can be a very physical vacation. If you tour the parks like most people, you want to see and do everything, which means you’ll spend most of your day walking and standing in line. This is understandably a concern for people with physical disabilities, but they need not worry. Disney World is one of the most accessible vacation destinations anywhere.
The good news is that people with physical disabilities can access most attractions at Disney World. As you enter the park, go to Guest Relations (usually located on your left as you walk in) and request a Guest Assistance Card (GAC). The Cast Member will not ask any intrusive questions about your disability, but he or she will need to know the type of accommodations you require. If you’re obtaining the pass for someone else in your party, that individual will need to be present.
Get Park Wise: The GAC is a small white and red pass, barely bigger than a Fastpass. Don’t feel self-conscious about using it; most guests won’t know the difference between it and a Fastpass.
Once you have your GAC, you will use the Fastpass entrance or the auxiliary entrance for some attractions. These entrances are not a “short cut” but rather are designed to allow people with disabilities to enter more easily. For example, currently the handicap entrance at the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom is where guests exit the ride. You would go up there and present your documentation, wait a few minutes, and then enter the attraction.
UPDATE: After receiving a few comments (thank you!), I discovered that the Haunted Mansion procedure has changed. As a reminder, you should always approach the greeter to inquire about accessibility issues and needs. Currently, any guests at the Haunted Mansion with a GAC or disability issues are directed to the regular standby entrance or an alternative entrance that still leads them to the crypt doors of the Mansion where they can experience the full attraction.
While the official policy is that you (the holder) may be accompanied by up to five guests, I have seen that rule bent. Most Cast Members are sympathetic and more than accommodating of people with disabilities and their group, but please remember that the stated rule is that only six may use the entrance. Some Cast Members, especially during slower times of the year, may allow larger groups in, but this is not the official policy. In this case, your additional guests will be asked to use the regular entrance.
Some attractions require guests to leave wheelchairs or ECVs behind. Rides such as Big Thunder Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, and the Mad Tea Party in the Magic Kingdom are such rides. In general, newer attractions will allow you to take your wheelchair or ECV on board. For example, you can stay in your wheelchair or ECV in Toy Story Midway Mania or on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Older rides or thrill rides will require you to move from the chair to the ride. For more information, please see Disney’s official accessibility page.
There are handicapped accessible parade and show viewing areas in the parks as well. They are on a first come, first served basis and your party is limited to six people. If you have more in your party, you will have to split up. Arrive early, as these are very popular. Keep in mind that while these areas exist, they are not necessary for you to enjoy the parades and shows. There are numerous areas not reserved for people with disabilities where you can view the parades comfortably, just get there early enough to claim a spot where your view won’t be obstructed by those standing in front of you.
If you have mobility issues, you’ll want to request a handicapped accessible room when you make your reservation. These rooms often come with roll-in showers and king-sized beds (you may bring in a rollaway in some cases). Don’t worry too much about what floor you’re on, as all resorts have elevator access. Handicapped accessible rooms are the only ones guaranteed with king-sized beds at Pop Century and the All Stars, so they can be in short supply. If you anticipate needing this type of accommodation, please reserve early. While you’re making your reservation, the cast member you’re speaking to will call Disability Services and make all the arrangements. This is actually an important step. Simply adding a “request” to your reservation really isn’t enough; you’ll want this guaranteed. Again, you’ll need to provide some information about what type of accommodations you will require, but you need not disclose what your disability is.
There is a very limited supply of free manual wheelchairs available for use from handicapped parking to wheelchair rental areas. They are on a first come, first served basis. If you anticipate needing a wheelchair or scooter, consider renting one for your stay. There are several businesses in the Orlando area that will deliver your scooter to your resort and pick it up, so it’s very easy.
The Shops and Dining:
Bear with me for a moment while I make this analogy. I have twins who until very recently were in a double stroller, which is around the same width as a standard wheelchair or scooter. Often, when I go into stores in the real world, we don’t fit and I often wonder how people in wheelchairs get around inside. While the buildings are wheelchair accessible by law, the stores themselves are simply too congested with displays to move around in. It’s very frustrating to me, so I can imagine how someone in a wheelchair would feel about being denied access because the store is poorly designed. This, happily, is not a problem at Disney World. You should be able to maneuver your ECV or wheelchair fairly easily in just about every store in the entire resort. Cast members keep chairs from cluttering counter service restaurants, merchandise that’s thrown on the floor is quickly picked up, and store aisles are generally roomy. I’ve found this to be true even in the smaller gift shops that are located right outside of attractions.
All Disney buses are equipped to accommodate standard size ECVs and wheelchairs. You can access the monorail using a ramp, which will be brought out for you to use. The whole process is very quick and unobtrusive. The friendship boats between Hollywood Studios and Epcot can also accommodate ECVs and wheelchairs.
If you have a larger ECV, consider taking your own vehicle rather than Disney transportation as some of the lifts cannot accommodate them. Some rental cars will hold a broken down ECV or allow you to rent a carrier for a fee. Check with your rental agency.
You can rent a Disney owned ECV or wheelchair from several locations in each park, but you’ll only be able to use it in that park. Present your receipt and you’ll be able to use one in another park (at no extra fee) that same day, but since ECVs are in limited supply, you are not guaranteed to get one (especially if you arrive mid-day). If you leave the park but will be returning later that day to that same park, you can have your ECV tagged and saved for you until you return. ECVs rent for $50 a day plus a $20 deposit; manual wheelchairs rent for $20. As noted above, you can rent EVCs through outside companies, most often for less than you would pay renting it from Disney. The bonus is that you’ll have it at your resort and in the parks. There’s a good article about whether or not to use an electric wheelchair at Disney World and how and where to find one: To Walk Or To Ride, That Is The Question.
- ECVs are heavy and difficult to stop and some guests just won’t pay attention to where you are, so just be wary of this.
- Consider renting a wheelchair or ECV from an off-site company. They will deliver it to your resort.
- If you don’t use an ECV at home, make sure you try one out before you go. You’ll need to hold down a lever while you drive, and for some people, particularly those with chronic pain, this can be painful after a while.
- Notify your resort, whether on property or off, of any special needs you have. This is particularly important if you need an accessible room.
- Handicapped parking is located right outside all parks except the Magic Kingdom. At the Magic Kingdom you’ll be close to the Ticket and Transportation Center, but from there you’ll need to take the monorail or ferry.
- Given a choice, the ferry is often easier than the monorail for individuals in wheelchairs because you will not need to use a ramp. While the ferry runs less frequently, it’s often faster because it can handle more guests.
- A Cast Member at the monorail station will provide you with a ramp so that you can get on the monorail.
- Mark your wheelchair or ECV with something distinctive so that you can find it more easily.
That’s my advice for you. Do you have any tips or advice of your own for people who are visiting Walt Disney World with a physical disability?
Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.
You can find Chris at Everything Walt Disney World.
Follow Everything Walt Disney World on twitter: @EverythingWDW
If you have any specific questions you would like me to tackle, please leave me a comment!