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Adrienne Krock, editor

Children with Special Needs Visit Walt Disney World

Extraordinary family opens their heart to Disney magic

Wednesday, October 6, 2004
by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

In March 2003, I wrote “Special-Needs Kids on Disney Vacations” (link), an article about visiting Disney parks with children and adults who have special needs. Since that time, I have received wonderful and insiring messages from others who visit the Disney parks with family members who also have special needs.

While every e-mail I read sparks emotion for me, I recently heard from a family in Georgia who are truly inspiring. This family regularly visits Walt Disney World with their three children with special needs, but they also take with them their medically fragile foster children.

Meet the Hammetts


All of the cast members make the entire Hammett family feel special. Photo courtesy of Judy and Ken Hammett.

After Judy and Ken raised their son and three daughters, they decided to open their homes to more children by adopting three children with special needs. The daily toils of parenting healthy children pale in comparison: All three have cerebral palsy, use wheelchairs, and are developmentally and mentally delayed. One is on oxygen 24 hours a day and has a tracheostomy, and one has hydrocephalus and microcephaly. Two have very limited language ability, while the third does not talk at all. Two are legally blind and one is legally deaf.

With all of these conditions, the three have one thing in common: All three are Walt Disney World annual passholders.

In addition to these three annual passholders, the Hammetts usually take two medically fragile foster children with them when they visit Walt Disney World. With one or two of their daughters and two or three granddaughters along to help push the children's wheelchairs, their group size averages three or four adults and eight children under the age of 10. The family usually has one adult per child with special needs on their trips. And because their youngest children are a different race than the Hammetts, Judy says, “We are quite a colorful group.”

Most healthy individuals may not realize that children with special needs can also enjoy a visit to Walt Disney World. “Our children cannot do the things typical children do,” Judy said. “But when you see their little faces light up and see the big smiles on their faces when they meet and greet the characters at Walt Disney World, you know what that magical place means to them.”

Judy says that they are there so often that many of the cast members now know them by sight, and that some even know the children's names.

“We are also treated with great love,” she said.


The Hammetts' children and grandchildren love meeting characters. Photo courtesy of Judy and Ken Hammett.

The children love characters, especially those with big noses. Usually when the Hammett children are in the parks, the cast members assisting the characters see the children and bring the characters to them, or help the children get to the front of the line so that they can have time with the characters.

The Hammetts transfer the children out of their wheelchairs to ride attractions. Their favorites are “it's a small world,” Jungle Cruise, and the Cinderella's Golden Carrousel.

To go on the attractions, the Hammetts use a Guest Assistance Card. These cards, available from Guest Relations, help Walt Disney World cast members easily identify the accommodations that special needs guests may need for various attractions. If families have multiple members with special needs, they can get a card for each family member. This allows larger groups to split up and still receive appropriate accommodations. Since Guest Assistance Cards are good for the length of stay, you do not need to get a new one each day.

Judy and Ken stay in their motor home at the Ft. Wilderness Campground when they visit Walt Disney World. Having a motor home offers a lot of conveniences, and allow the Hammetts to drive directly to the resort with their own kitchen and food for the kids.

Families flying in to Orlando may need shuttle services to the resort. Mears Transportation offers wheelchair-accessible vans and taxis, provided they are given a 24-hour notice. When you arrive at Orlando Airport, proceed to the Mears booth to purchase tickets for the shuttle. Mears adds a convenience of stopping at a grocery store on the way to the resort so that passengers can purchase supplies that they might need during their stay.

The Walt Disney World Resort hotels have accessible rooms with large bathrooms designed with wheel-in showers, hoses, and handlebars. They are also furnished with microwaves and refrigerators to store medications and food.

For her children who have special diet needs and tastes, Judy packs sandwiches and snacks to take to the parks. In addition, resort chefs can make accommodations for guests with special dietary needs. Before your vacation, call the guest services offices at the resorts you are planning to visit. Explain your dietary needs and the times you will be eating at that resort.

Two of the Hammett children use feeding tubes. Judy simply hangs their bags from their wheelchairs wherever they are at feeding time. Each resort park has a Central First Aid center where guests can go to feed or administer medications. These centers have beds with privacy curtains so children and adults with special needs can rest while other family members continue to visit park attractions.

Judy usually tries to find quiet shady areas in the parks when her children need to rest. She says that Disney's Animal Kingdom has the most shady areas. When they have problems finding shade, they seek relief inside the air-conditioned buildings.


Judy says the Animal Kingdom is the best park for finding shady areas to rest. Photo courtesy of Judy and Ken Hammett.

Judy packs extra medications, diapers, medical equipment, and lots of clothing. Each night, she packs a bag to hang on each child's wheelchair with that child's medical items and extra clothing. These bags are ready to go in the morning.

Judy's children are small enough that they can use the changing tables available in the public restrooms. Central First Aid centers are great for older children and adults who are too large for the restroom tables.

The buses that offer free transportation around the vast Walt Disney World resort only have room for two wheelchairs at most, so the Hammett family cannot use those buses with their children. When families have more than two children or adults using wheelchairs, they can stop at the Guest Services at any park or hotel and request a special accessible bus. This bus can handle several individuals' wheelchairs at once so families do not have to split up. Guest Services will call for the bus, and will tell you how long your wait will be.


Walt Disney World buses have room to carry two individuals in wheelchairs. The Guest Services Offices arrange for buses equipped to handle more than two for families that need them. Photo courtesy of Judy and Ken Hammett.

Staying at Fort Wilderness, Judy can do loads of laundry during their stay. The Disney resort hotels also have laundry facilities, which includes both coin-operated self-service and valet laundry service, which picks up dirty laundry and returns it to your room cleaned. If you plan on using the coin-operated machines, save money by bringing your own laundry soap and fabric softener with you, and pack lots of quarters.

There is only one wish the Hammetts have for their children: To be the grand marshals in a Walt Disney World parade just once.

“They were asked one time, but when (the Disney cast members) found out the children could not step up into the car on their own, they were unable to participate,” Judy said. Instead, the Hammetts' daughter and grandchildren were the grand marshals for that parade, and “it was the highlight of their lives thus far.” Judy added, “It would be so wonderful to see our 'special' children being allowed to serve in that capacity as typical children do.”

The story of Judy and Ken Hammett is truly inspiring, and their family vacations to Walt Disney World sound nothing short of magical.

Special thanks to Margaret Silva for her assistance with gathering information for this article.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Adrienne here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being Matthew and Spencer's mom.

Adrienne, Matthew and Spencer visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy.

Besides Matthew and Spencer, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain the award-winning Happiest Potties on Earth here at MousePlanet.

You can contact Adrienne here.

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