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Theme-Park Access Guide
Accessing theme parks for those with disabilities
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Tony Phoenix and Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editors

Reader Mail for August 31, 2000

We've had a tremendous response to our Theme Park Access Guide and updates. Thank you all for your kind letters — we are so glad to know that we can make your trip easier and more enjoyable. 

We've seen a few recurring themes in our Reader's Letters, so we wanted to address them here for everyone who might have the same questions and concerns.

Today, two letters from Readers who are bringing children with special needs to the parks.

N.E. writes:

We are planning to visit Disney World after Christmas with our little 5 year old down syndrome grandson. I am aware of the need to get a special pass at City Hall upon entering, but I wonder if this could be done before we arrive? 

Also, are there any other special accommodations for special needs children that we need to be aware of? Discounted tickets, etc.? Thanks so much for your help.

Donna K. writes:

Thanks for your very informative web site! I do have one question for you! We are bringing our 8 year old visually/mentally disabled son to Disneyland in August for the first time. Have you found that the special pass that they give you as a disabled person makes your waiting time any shorter?

We want this to be a good experience for him and as any child would get frustrated, his level of frustration is reached much earlier. Do I need to bring medical documentation proving his disability? I did not receive much help when I called Disneyland directly, so any info. you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

These are great questions, so let me break them down by subject.

Special Assistance Passes

These need to be obtained in person at City Hall of Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom, or at Guest Relations of the other Florida parks. 

We highly recommend bringing medical documentation with you, especially if you have a non-visible disability. We are hearing that the parks are really making an effort to only give SA passes to people who really need them, apparently trying to prevent the abuses which have become too prevalent. 

Your documentation might be a State Issued Disability Card, or a letter from your Doctor, summarizing your child's condition. You don't need to get too detailed, but it helps to have the information with you.

In theory, guests with obvious disabilities, who are using their own custom or motorized wheelchairs, who use canes, crutches or limb braces, or who have service animals, should not need an SA pass. In reality -- the cast members may give you a hard time if you don't have an actual pass. 

For your own convenience and stress-management, stop by City Hall or Guest Relations and get a pass. The process should only take a few moments at the start of your day, and then you're ready to enjoy the park!

The Special Assistance passes are designed only to insure alternate access to the attractions. They are not intended to eliminate the wait you may experience. In many cases, the Special Assistance line will move more quickly than the regular access line. (That's why people abuse the passes!) However, there are some attractions where the SA line will actually take longer -- much longer! due to the nature of the attraction's loading policy and process, than the regular queue. 

In addition, newer attractions, like Autopia 2000 and Indiana Jones, are fully wheelchair accessible, so you may use the standard queue. The TAG has full ride-by-ride details of the Disneyland attractions. The WDW Edition of the TAG will be available next week, with the same details for the 4 Florida parks. 

Plan Ahead

If your child has a very low frustration threshold, you'll want to plan ahead. Start by knowing how long you can reasonably expect your child to wait in a line. This will vary with each child and disability. Armed with that information, you can make choices about when and how to visit the attractions. 

Adrienne Krock's Parenting in the Parks columns, as well as the rest of the MousePlanet Trip Planning Resources, are full of great practical advice on taking children to the parks, how to plan a trip to avoid the worst of the lines, and how to keep your children entertained while you are in line. A little time spent surfing MousePlanet should give you a LOT of great tips for any child.

In general, we have found the wait at the Fantasyland rides are usually very short with an SA pass. The exceptions are Dumbo, the Mad Tea Party and the Carousel, where you will need to actively get the attention of the cast member in order to board the attraction. In addition, the unique loading process of Alice in Wonderland can make that line fairly long. You'll be able to see how many people are in front of you -- estimate 5 minutes per group -- and decide to ride or return later. 

We have also found that the SA lines for Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean can be longer than the regular queue during peak hours. As always, your best plan is to ask the cast member on duty for an estimate of the wait time.

When your child becomes too impatient

You'll also want to think about what you will do if your child becomes too impatient to wait in line. Having an "escape" plan will help you to deal with the situation when it happens, and allow you to keep your cool when your child is losing theirs. Remember - this is a vacation, as well as an important socialization exercise for your child. RELAX, and enjoy.

Another great tip is to have an area planned, in advance, where you can take your child to unwind if they get too hyper. At Disneyland, we like the Fantasia Gardens area, as well as the lower level of the Hungry Bear restaurant. We'll have tips for the Florida parks in our TAG Update next week.

When it comes time to care for a special needs child, you have several options. Each park has a First Aid station, where you can store and administer medications or treatments. There are Registered Nurses on hand at each location, and they are just as accommodating as they can be. There are private exam rooms for more personal matters, as well as a resting area if your child needs to take a sudden nap. 

For a less clinical setting, you might want to consider using the Baby Care Centers to handle any nonmedical needs, such as changing your child, or letting them use the specially sized training potties. You'll also find facilities for preparing food and feeding children, which is great if your child is on a specialized diet. You'll find a small kitchen area, with a microwave and a sink. While the Baby Care Centers are designed with -- you guessed it -- babies in mind, they are happy to assist you with caring for your special needs child there.

Happy Hearts program

Disneyland hosts a "Happy Hearts" program, which offers reduced price admission tickets to special needs children at various times of the year. I believe, and I may be wrong here, that these tickets are made available to organizations -- you must be a member, and you purchase your tickets directly through the organization. 

I'll try to do more research, and add the information to the TAG. Otherwise, there are no discounts available. 


Adrienne and Tony developed the concept for the Theme-Park Access Guide after several long discussions with friends about disabled access issues at Disneyland. We all felt that communication needed to be improved for guests with disabilities. 

Tony was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis several years ago. We have seen the parks in almost every imaginable way: walking with no aids, a cane, crutches, and a wheelchair. We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and everything in between. It is our hope that this guide helps you make the most out of your visit to California or Florida.

Disney parks usually do many things right in providing access to guests with disabilities; however, they still have a long way to go in making the parks truly accessible for everyone. We have detailed some of the more egregious problems in the Horror Stories/Hall of Shame section of this site.


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