Disney World Parks for Guests with Physical Disabilities

Written by Chris Wood. Posted in Features, Park Wise, Walt Disney World

Tagged: , , , , , ,

parkwise

Published on August 01, 2012 at 9:32 pm with 14 Comments

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 Parks:

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.

The Resorts: 

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.

Getting Around:

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.

Tips:

  • 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.

Like Everything Walt Disney World on Facebook.

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!

About Chris Wood

Chris Wood is frequent Disney traveler and travel agent. She considers Walt Disney World to be her home park.

Browse Archived Articles by

14 Comments

Comments for Disney World Parks for Guests with Physical Disabilities are now closed.

  1. Do walking canes count? Like, are walking canes part of this disability thing? Because they are mostly designed for the handicapped with wheels such as wheelchairs. Do walking cane guests have to enter the same way as a regular would?

    • If you have any type of disability, you may get a GAC and it’s really up to you at that point if you want to enter via the FP line or handicapped entrance or, if the line is short enough, if you want to use the regular line.

      Disney takes into account any hidden disability and individual might have and provides accommodation. No need to provide documentation or show proof of any kind.

      Thanks for your comment–I hope I answered your question!

    • A guest with a cane will more than likely qualify for a guest assistance card, probably an “alternate entrance” with a shorter distance and/or shorter wait, or wheelchair accessible entrance. As far as entering through the regular entrance, this would be different with every attraction, but most, if not all, have special accommodations for guests with disabilities.

      • Thank you for the comment. I updated the post. When I was there in October 2011, they were still directing people to the Exit.

  2. The disability/GAC entrance to the Haunted Mansion is not through the exit… please ask the cast member at the front of the attraction where to go because different Guest Assistance Cards go through different entrances to accommodate their needs. No one goes through the exit as of February 2012, the Haunted Mansion is now ADA compliant through the main entrance and guests with disabilities can now experience the Stretching Rooms, and thus the full experience of our 999 Happy Haunts. : )

  3. Regardless of whether you are using a GAC or not, you should always ask the cast member at the entrance to any attraction where you should go if you are using a wheelchair or scooter. Policies and procedures can and do change frequently. For example, the information in this article for The Haunted Mansion is out-of-date. Guests with a GAC may be directed to use the standard entrance if there is little to no wait, or may be directed to an alternate entrance, which will still route them through some of the standard queue to the front doors. Guests no longer go to the exit to access the attraction.

    • I appreciate you commenting. I updated the post to reflect the information in your comment. When I was their in October 2011, it was still the same. My March visit was different, they did direct us to the standby line, but it was first thing in the morning with no wait. The cast member didn’t offer any reasoning other than the line was short.

      Thanks!

  4. Does the Carribean Resort have elevators? Some blogs have said they don’t, and we’re staying there in October with an 80 year old, a toddler, and a 7 month old.

    • Thanks for the comment! I am pretty sure that the Caribbean Beach does not have elevators. I will find out and let you know!

    • I called the front desk and the cast member confirmed that there were buildings that had elevator access. Not all of them, though. You would need to call to make a special request or have your travel agent take care of it for you.

  5. Chris, thank you SO much for posting this article. One of the most frequent email requests we get at MiceChat are questions from our readers about how Disney will handle their disabilities or if they’ll be able to ride certain attractions, visit certain restaurants, etc. I think you’ve made a lot of folks feel more comfortable about visiting WDW. It truly is one of the most accessible places on earth!

  6. Earlier this month I traveled back home to California to see my folks, and took my 20-yr-old son with autism and hypotonia (muscle weakness) with me. J. is six feet tall, looks normal – I was worried about using the pass to get him onto rides without him needing to stand in line for long periods of time. I knew walking around the park alone would wear him out.

    I need not have worried. The pass was easily obtained 9I had brought a doctor’s note but it was not needed, nor was showing his Medic Alert tag listing his disabilities). We were directed to enter any Fast Pass line when available, and for non-FP attractions we either asked a Cast Member where to go or, once we got the hang of it, looked for the small wheelchair symbol on most exits. Usually there was only a very short wait, if any, so J. rode everything time and again to his heart’s delight.

    The new Cars ride – we were instructed to skip the long line of folks waiting for a FP, and walked to the entrance of the ride itself, where FP’s for disabled folks were hand-written and given out. So for that ride we did have to come back later, with our sp[special FP – but, again, w/o waiting in the then 45-minute line with everyo9ne else to get the FP. This was early on a Wed. morning, before FPs ran out for the day. I do NOT know if disabled folks can get Fast Passes all day long or if they can just enter the FP line with the Guest Assistance Pass once FPs are gone. I would not risk it.

  7. A Different Perspective–

    As a current and former cast member at Disneyland and WDW with both visible and hidden disabilities who has used a GAC card I have some additional information.

    1. First and foremost, your GAC is NOT the proverbial “Golden Ticket” from Willy Wonka. It will not guarantee that you will always have an ideal reserved seat or viewing position or never have to wait in line. While I realize that most people with disabilities don’t expect this, unfortunately there is a very noisy minority who demand exactly that (just like the infamous minority of APs).

    2. Be aware how the process is structured: Your request is screened at Guest Relations and, for the most part, cast members at individual locations will act on what is stamped on your pass. As stated in the article, the “Plaids” at GR will not grill you on your disability–it’s up to you to explain what assistance you need.

    3. You still need to plan ahead. All of us with disabilities deal with this on a regular, if not daily, basis. This is especially true of older attractions at Disneyland. Even though my present job requires me to stand for hours on end, I still bring my wheelchair when I’m visiting the park for more than a few hours, just so I have a place to sit.

    Here’s a prime example. Fantasmic at Disneyland is performed on the Rivers of America, which has been retrofitted as a viewing area. It is not a purpose-built amphitheater like DHS at WDW. The viewing area is “accessible”, in that people with mobility impairments can view the show from a large portion of the area. There is a designated wheelchair viewing area next to the Mark Twain dock, which is also next to “A-tower” which broadcasts the captioning signal for the deaf and hearing impaired.

    However, other options are limited. Other than the Disney Dining dessert reservation program, there is no seating available other than on the ground at the river’s edge (which is filled one-to-two hours before the 9:00 show in summer) or in chairs at River Belle (which fill more than an hour before). An alternative is to grab a prime space and let members of the party who can’t sit on the ground or stand for long to sit on a bench (hard to find) or at French Market until showtime. The solutions are similar for guests with disabilities such as Autism or anxiety disorders who have difficulty with crowds.

    The bottom line is that it requires planning and patience. Unfortunately, many guests (including the “temporarily abled”) want to show up in the last 15 minutes before the 9:00 show) and get a prime spot (including where people have been camped out for up to two or three hours).

    4. Use common sense. You would be surprised at the number of people who still elect to use the exit at an older attraction, even though they don’t have a wheelchair in their party and the wait is two or three times longer than the regular attraction entry and there are no stairs. In my experience, they are told that the choice is theirs (because they may not be disclosing all of their needs, which is entirely at their discretion) but many of them still want to use their “Golden Ticket” just because it’s “special”. Most recently I witnessed a former Paralympic Gold Medalist who did this. Go figure.

    Note: I’m very active on disability blogs and am a co-founder of a disability thread on a major political blog. One of the subjects that comes up is people with disabilities who have a sense of entitlement and a common observation is that it seems that many of the people who complain the loudest are those with the smallest needs. My subjective observation is that many of the guests with the most severe disabilities that I encounter are the most appreciative of efforts to assist them.

    Bottom line: Plan ahead, understand what the GAC does and does not do and be practical. Accessibility is an ongoing process, especially with “legacy” attractions. Believe me, if you approach the situation positively, the overwhelming majority of cast members will be anxious to assist. Yes, there is still the need to educate, and I absolutely understand how tiring it is to have to educate the abled majority, just like every minority.

    If you encounter barriers that you feel are unreasonable, give feedback. Leave a comment at Guest Relations or write after you get home. Alternatively, communicate through your advocacy organizations.

    (As always, my comments are my own and not on behalf of the Walt Disney Company or any other entity.)

  8. P.S. THANK YOU!!!

    This was extraordinary. I’m sorry I didn’t say this before anything else. IMHO, information for guests doesn’t go far enough in explaining the “hows and whys”. I can’t say it too strongly–this was incredibly valuable.

    Thank you.