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Visiting theme parks with a wheelchair: Standard or ECV?

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Published: February 13, 2013 at 3:53 PM

For anyone planning a theme park trip who happens to be in a wheelchair, the decision of choosing the kind of wheelchair that it will be used at any park is a crucial one. The right choice will make the difference between a smooth experience or a complicated one. Let's start by looking at the theme parks rules for wheelchairs; not all theme parks have the same rules.

ECV at Disneyland
Thinking about taking an ECV [Electric Conveyance Vehicle] to a theme park?

Let's take Universal and Disney as an example. Universal is the stricter one; the following warning is taken from its website:

"NOTE: We apologize, but due to their dramatic motion, none of the ride vehicles at Universal Orlando will accommodate Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECV's) or electric wheelchairs. At those rides which can accommodate standard wheelchairs, guests may transfer from their ECV or electric wheelchair into a standard wheelchair, which can be provided at each location."

With this information you can tell that taking your electric wheelchair to Universal would mean unnecessary transfers that you can avoid if you take your standard (manual) wheelchair with you to the park. On the other hand, Disney let you take your electric wheelchair into their wheelchair accessible ride vehicles. However, if you choose to rent an ECV, most rides do not allow you to get it into a vehicle.

In my own experience as a wheelchair user, I can say that is very nice to go to Universal in my standard wheelchair; I get to ride E.T., Men in Black, Disaster, and the now-defunct Jaws without leaving my wheelchair. At the Disney parks I have ridden Toy Story, the Great Movie Ride, and the Studio Tour in my electric wheelchair which is a Go-Travel wheelchair that is not very stable. Even worse, it does not have any place to put the ride's hooks that keeps your wheelchair steady.

Not all electric wheelchairs are the same, so if you go to any Disney park be sure that your electric wheelchair has straps or other device that can be hooked to the ride's vehicle. Otherwise, in the rides that have more movement (like the Studio Tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios) your wheelchair will move and you will not enjoy the experience. For that reason, I also take my standard wheelchair to the Disney parks. Nevertheless, choosing standard means that there has to be someone willing to push your wheelchair all day (I'm lucky to have that person) or it means that you have strong arms.

The decision on the type of wheelchair that you are going to take with you depends on other factors as well. For example, if you are going to Epcot just for the Food and Wine Festival, the electric wheelchair would be a better choice since the person who is pushing you will need to have his/her hands free in order to take the food and drinks; even though we got the clever idea of bringing a tray with us where it sits on my lap. Also, there is the freedom that an electric wheelchair gives you. The only problem is the battery; my electric wheelchair runs up to 10 miles, and when I go to Epcot I end up the day with almost no charge. I recommend you taking an electric wheelchair that runs at least 15 miles (20 miles would be ideal).

In my case, I prefer to go with my standard wheelchair because I want to enjoy the parks. Otherwise, I'm looking all day at the wheelchair panel watching how every bar disappears. Not my idea of a relaxed day at a theme park.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on February 13, 2013 at 5:21 PM
Good information!
From Duncan Henny on February 13, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Great piece very informative :)
From Mark Kausch on February 14, 2013 at 2:07 AM
I have neither a wheelchair nor an ECV; however, when I go to a park I need to rent one as I cannot stand or walk for long. It's a lung thing. Since I usually go solo, I opt for the ECV.
From Zena Sharpe on February 14, 2013 at 2:22 AM
Back in 2004 when I suprised my Mum to an Orlando holiday, we had to hire a manual wheelchair for her as she had tumours on her spine and couldn't walk much.

We found all the staff at both Universal and Disney extremely helpful and couldn't do enough for us.

As far as I remember, the only ride we had a problem with was the Great Movie Ride at DHS, but other than that the rest of the rides were good. Obviously due to the tumours she couldn't ride the shaking rides like Earthquake so I cannot comment about those

On a closing note, I would very much like to praise all CM's and staff at Universal for their kind attention in looking after my Mum and for making her last holiday a one to remember x

From Tracy Bates on February 14, 2013 at 6:28 AM
Don't get your ECV from disney/universal.

Call Apple scooter, they will deliver the scooter to your hotel and it's half the price of the ones at the theme park. Plus, it's yours so it goes with you from theme park to theme park. At disney, if you want to switch parks you have to leave it and hope they have one at the park you are going to or you won't have one anymore. With this, you can just ride out to the monorail/bus/boat and take it to the other park or back to your hotel room. (It does make for a more cramped hotel room, though.)

I know there are other companies that deliver scooters, too, but I've never rented from them.

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