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
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 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
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.