How using a wheelchair changes the theme park experience
Written by Daniel Etcheberry
My theme park life can be divided in two parts; my able body experience and my disabled experience. 1999 was the year that changed the way I would experience the same rides that I rode before. Ending up in a wheelchair with no ability of standing up on my own and with upper torso weakness, it changed my ride’s experience. Actually the changes have been from the minimal to the impossible.Tweet
On the minimal side is E.T.; this ride has a special vehicle that can carry a wheelchair. It was exactly the same experience than when I was body able. Even better, the wheelchair always goes on the first row; the first time I rode it (body able) I was on the last row, and the first row is much better because the feeling of flying is more real.
Disaster falls in the same category as E.T., but with a slight change. Like E.T., this ride can accommodate a wheelchair, but that spot is on the first row to the left when entering the train. It is not the best spot, and the experience was less exciting with the wheelchair.
Other rides with minimal change were all the ones that accepted wheelchairs, such as it’s a Small World and the river boat at Epcot’s Mexican pavilion (the only change in these rides is that I see everything from a higher height, and when another boat bumps behind my boat, I feel a stronger jolt).
Going down the ladder are the rides where I have to transfer (with help of family members). The first time I rode Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom, I experienced the stretching room. People in wheelchairs have to enter through the exit, so I never saw that room again. Cast members stop the ride so one can transfer. Once seated, it is the same experience.
Going further down the ladder are the rides that are difficult to transfer. When I rode Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom in 1996, it was relaxing and enjoyable; when I rode it again in 2001, it was relaxing and enjoyable except for the transfer out of the boat. The family member who rode it with me could not get me out, and we got lucky that there was a guest who helped us. After that experience I never rode Splash Mountain again. I miss that ride.
Going even further down the ladder are the rides that I don’t feel comfortable anymore. I rode Dinosaur in the nineties; by then I found it exhilarating, but when I rode it again in the 2000s, I felt that I was going to slip out of the vehicle. I was lucky that my brother-in-law was sitting next to me, and he hold me tight. This time I did not enjoy the ride at all.
At the bottom of the ladder are the rides that are impossible to experience again. I enjoyed Space Mountain (MK) in 1996; now I don’t even dare to try. It’s a low vehicle with only one seat per row and very narrow. Very narrow leg room as well. Another impossible ride that I enjoyed in the nineties and became non-accessible for me was Spaceship Earth at Epcot. The disabled had to enter the ride through the exit, and they had to climb stairs! A few years ago they changed those stairs for a ramp, and I was able to experience the ride again.
Being a theme park fan and disabled sucks (for a lack of a better word), but one day I saw something that changed my perspective of life; there was a blind girl in front of me at one of the rides, and even though she couldn’t see the ride itself, she was able to listen to the music and feel the movement of the vehicle. Her imagination must have gone wild. Nevertheless, I felt blessed that I still can see the sights, and it also was a learning experience that no matter what limitations one can have, there is always an enjoyment to be had in a theme park.
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