Despite the fact that there are 2 million new wheelchair users each year in the United States, our nation is not always friendly to those with mobility issues. And even if you plan on taking a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, you might be wondering whether the most popular amusement parks in Orlando (and, arguably, the nation) will be truly accessible to those with different needs. It might surprise you to learn that Disney World is known as one of the most accommodating vacation spots for guests with disabilities — and yet, there are still areas in which the company can improve.
Whether you have relatives taking a flight to the Sunshine State, being transported by car (like one of the 9.8 million vehicles GM produced in 2015), or taking wheelchair-friendly transportation to Walt Disney World, here’s what you should know about accessibility once you arrive.
Mobility Device Rentals
Although “it’s a small world after all,” these parks are expansive. Around 30% of adults over the age of 15 who exercise on a daily basis say that they walk to get a workout, navigating the Magic Kingdom alone can be immensely tiring for people with no mobility issues. Fortunately, Disney does make it relatively easy for guests to rent a wheelchair, scooter, or electronic convenience vehicle (ECV) on-site. If you’re not accustomed to using your own manual wheelchair all day, renting an ECV might be a good idea. Rentals range from $12 to $50 per day, and the fees are transferrable throughout the different parks (which is good news for those with park-hopper tickets). That said, these vehicles are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, which means that guests who aren’t using their own devices will need to arrive early to secure their rental each day of their visit.
Disney makes it simple for guests to go between properties — and that ease does extend to those with physical disabilities. The monorail and buses and are wheelchair-accessible, as is the “Magical Express,” which takes guests to and from the Orlando International Airport. Some of the water transport options are wheelchair-friendly, though some of the water taxis for specific hotels are not accommodating for those with mobility issues. The Friendship Boats (which go between Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and several surrounding hotels) and the Disney Springs Ferryboats are wheelchair-accessible, however, so you don’t have to miss out on this method of transportation during your stay.
Rides and Attractions
Many of Disney’s most popular attractions provide the means for guests in wheelchairs to partake without having to transfer out of their chairs. More of the rides are wheelchair-accessible than they are scooter-accessible (meaning that if you rent a scooter, you should expect the need to transfer in order to ride). Rides like Kilimanjaro Safaris, The Seas With Nemo and Friends, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Journey of the Little Mermaid, Toy Story Mania, The Jungle Cruise, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, The Carousel of Progress, and virtually all of the stage shows are accessible to guests in wheelchairs. There are some attractions that are not accessible for wheelchairs or scooters, however, including Peter Pan’s Flight (one of the most popular rides in the Magic Kingdom), Frozen Ever After, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and others.
Keep in mind that guests with mobility devices can no longer merely skip the line and ride attractions whenever they want. Back in 2013, Disney revamped this system and formed their Disability Access System. DAS works similarly to the FastPass+ system, in that you can obtain a pass that allows you access to a specific ride during a specific time period. It’s essentially a reservation, but you can show up at any point during the designated time slot. This does allow you to skip the line and go right on the ride, but it doesn’t provide the same amount of freedom as the old system did. You can obtain a DAS pass at Guest Services and choose the attraction from there. You do not need to provide a doctor’s note to obtain a DAS pass either, which means you won’t have to worry about offering proof of your disability — so whether you were injured in a forklift accident at work (which represents 10% of all injuries that occur in warehouses and factories) or you were born with mobility issues, you won’t need to worry about adding medical records to your packing list. Only one DAS pass can be used at a time (which means you’ll need to make another trip to Guest Services if you need another throughout the day), but it can be used in conjunction with the FastPass+ system.
Unfortunately, Walt Disney World is not 100% accessible for people with disabilities. But many guests with mobility issues say that their experience is still nothing short of magical — and with these tips in mind, you and your loved ones can feel prepared when planning a visit.