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The irony of Disney's Avatar Land for wheelchair visitors, plus other thoughts on theme park attractions

Written by
Published: March 1, 2014 at 8:01 PM

One of the reasons that I liked the movie Avatar was that the main character (Jake Sully) was someone in a wheelchair who got the chance to get into another body which happened to be very athletic; the scene where he gets inside his avatar for the first time and starts to run was exhilarating to me because I’m in a wheelchair too. Avatar Land at Disney's Animal Kingdom will not offer that experience. It may not even have a ride that gives the option to stay in the wheelchair (it will depend if the boat ride has any drop.) I’m looking forward to Avatar Land, but it may not be a dream world for wheelchair users as the movie is.

Avatar
Concept art courtesy Disney

If I only had known that Transformers was coming to Orlando, I would have skipped the one at Universal Studios Hollywood. People in wheelchairs have to take an elevator and then wait for a shuttle bus that takes one to the lower lot. That transition kills the theme park experience; there is no theme in the waiting areas for the bus. How about having a meet and greet with Marylyn Monroe while waiting for the shuttle and the Frankenstein monster as the bus driver?

My hands are very weak, so most interactive rides have become pointless to me. The only one that I’m still able to use my hands is Toy Story Midway Mania. It has by far the easiest shooting device to use (the pulling the string option is what makes the difference.) In addition, the loading of the wheelchair into the ride’s vehicle is much smoother than in other interactive rides. And it’s fun.

Readers' Opinions

From Tony Perkins on March 2, 2014 at 12:13 AM
Always interesting to hear a different perspective, thanks.
From Annette Forrest on March 2, 2014 at 2:31 AM
Daniel you are such a blessing. You are the only person speaking out on the needs of people with special needs in theme parks. I am so thankful for your voice and to Robert for giving you this platform. Every column you write makes me think because your perspective is so unique. I hope you are considering writing a book because I would buy it.
From O T on March 2, 2014 at 8:06 AM
Let's hope the boat ride will be just that without drops (maybe a simulated one).
I hope the Soarin ride will be ok to. What if you would hang in there like in the Manta coaster, could you do that if they would transfer you?
It would indeed be awful if Disney wouldn't make it so a wheelchair bounded guests couldn't get in those rides considering the movie and all.

I'm also wondering if we would leave behind a trail just like people who walk will leave behind their steps as they walk (if the promise in the artwork for that effect to happen comes true).

We still have to wait many many years though.
So how about that mine coaster, not a great one for right?

From 75.136.127.27 on March 2, 2014 at 3:57 PM
Very disappointing to hear this. Any word on accessibility for the new Diagon Alley stuff, especially the train that goes between parks?
From Paul Moreau on March 2, 2014 at 4:07 PM
That's a common issue I see at the parks, I am not in a wheelchair but I've accompanied someone who had to use a wheelchair or scooter due to chronic hip pain. When you go down this road, you quickly realize how much of an inconvenience it is for the person in a wheelchair. You often have to go the exit or go through some different route, which forces you to miss out on the extra cool bits you get to see or experience while going through the entrance. Thankfully, this person is able to walk and get onto the ride with little issue, but I have seen people who were in wheelchairs being transferred and it does look like a big hassle.

They should be able to accompany people with disabilities. I am one of them as I am deaf in both ears, so I rely on captions to understand the spoken dialogues. This is often made available at Disney and Universal parks, but not always, but it's the best they are doing at the moment, I know more can be done and that's something to keep pushing for.

Please keep up the fight on improving accommodations for people with disabilities! I enjoy reading your articles.

From Anthony Murphy on March 2, 2014 at 4:19 PM
Interesting thoughts!
From Anon Mouse on March 2, 2014 at 7:27 PM
The escalators at USH have no theme either. You do get the view, but that's mainly it. I wanted to take the elevators when my kid had to use the strollers. It didn't seem safe to have my kid use the long steep escalators and also bring the strollers on it. Most escalator instructions advise the strollers should not be placed on it. The Universal workers didn't seem so accommodating to the strollers.

As for Avatar, we don't know what to expect. It isn't a literal translation of film to attraction. In the movie, an able-bodied character inhabited the alien character too. You have to imagine you're the Avatar alien and the transition already happened.

From Josh Young on March 2, 2014 at 9:07 PM
This response has nothing to do with your disability, but rather the basis of your article.

The details that have been released on Avatar at Animal Kingdom are only concept renderings. Unless you know something that the public does not, saying that the new land "may not" have a ride that has an option for riders to stay in their wheelchair isn't exactly being fair to a company that has been extremely accommodating to guests with disabilities over the years. The public hasn't been told anything about the rides in the new land, yet your article is already making assumptions. Maybe you are correct. However, maybe you're not? The point is, why write an article that already sounds negative before any formal announcements have been made?

As for theming on the van ride at Universal Hollywood for guests with disabilities? The Starway that takes guests from the upper to lower lot and back consists of movie and tv show soundtracks. If your argument was to play that same soundtrack in the van and waiting areas? I totally agree (and they should). However, to provide actors to entertain those that can't take the stairs while you wait or take the ride up or down? Makes no sense either.

From Apple Butter on March 2, 2014 at 10:11 PM
I'm partially disabled with my right foot and hand not working and none of us handicapable people get respect. It is odd that Avatar which a wheelchair bound man can actually walk but a man in a wheelchair at Disney from a themed area by the same name and property can't ride there main attraction? From the concept art it looks to be very difficult to transfer onto that boat even if the transfer was somehow level. I can go on many rides but getting in and out of a boat ride is a pain for me and I need assistance.

@ Josh Young - just wait when you break your arm or leg and have to step in our shoes and see how many things are accessable in parks and everyday life. Cutting my steak, cutting my left finger nails, and tying my shoes are just a mere few things that i have to conquer on a daily basis. I commend Daniel for writing these articles and telling how or how not everything is adaptable from a different perspective. No one knows until they actually experience these things. No matter how much a park says they are handicap compliant, there is always some aspects that no one takes into consideration about total access.

From Apple Butter on March 2, 2014 at 10:11 PM
I'm partially disabled with my right foot and hand not working and none of us handicapable people get respect. It is odd that Avatar which a wheelchair bound man can actually walk but a man in a wheelchair at Disney from a themed area by the same name and property can't ride there main attraction? From the concept art it looks to be very difficult to transfer onto that boat even if the transfer was somehow level. I can go on many rides but getting in and out of a boat ride is a pain for me and I need assistance.

@ Josh Young - just wait when you break your arm or leg and have to step in our shoes and see how many things are accessable in parks and everyday life. Cutting my steak, cutting my left finger nails, and tying my shoes are just a mere few things that i have to conquer on a daily basis. I commend Daniel for writing these articles and telling how or how not everything is adaptable from a different perspective. No one knows until they actually experience these things. No matter how much a park says they are handicap compliant, there is always some aspects that no one takes into consideration about total access.

From Apple Butter on March 2, 2014 at 10:13 PM
My fault, I hit submit twice
From Josh Young on March 2, 2014 at 10:57 PM
Apple Butter,

In my comment I mentioned nothing about Daniel's disability, yours or anyone else's. I made no accusations to him as a person, nor will I do such things about you.

However, Daniel did make an accusation that the new attractions in the new Avatar section of Animal Kingdom "may not be a dream for wheelchair users". Until more details become available, why write anything at all. Perhaps, he's right. Maybe not? However, to go ahead and make an assumption loaded with a negative connotation without having the facts is a little unfair this early on, don't ya think?

Hearing about your personal struggles with the simple things in life, or Daniel's has nothing to do with the article written, nor the comment I posted. I did nothing to attack him as a person or his disability, nor will I do so to you.

In the future, just know that if someone without a disability disagrees with someone who has one? It doesn't mean they are attacking them in the slightest. If I think mustard is the best condiment to put on a hot dog and you choose relish? It doesn't mean that you are any more correct than I am because of your disability. If Daniel says Frankenstein should drive the van and I disagree? It has nothing to do with the wheelchair and everything to do with the statement.

From O T on March 3, 2014 at 7:25 AM
@From 75.136.127.27
Yes, from what I have heard the Hogwarts Express is accessible with a wheelchair and scooter with no need to transfer so we all can take the trip from Diagon Alley to Hogwarts.

I'm really appreciative when a park tries to accommodate a ride to handicap people. The lack of theming of holding rooms and back tours at Disney or Universal (or where ever) is a bit disappointing but I don't mind, I'm already glad I can go on it.
I'm also ok with the fact I can't do many rides anymore. Sure it's disappointing but there is always hope that a certain ride like a boat or train ride will have me in mind. Although I think the story is crap Disney shouldn't ignore the fact this is about a guy in a wheelchair and at least try to incorporate that in the execution of the rides.

From Apple Butter on March 3, 2014 at 9:41 AM
Josh Young

You can either agree or disagree with the article like you said. I was merely stating a fact that its dificult for the simple things in life compared to getting into a boat ride that you have to get in and out of. When you bring up disabity in your first comment in the first sentence and the article is about a disability getting into a ride from a disabled author than I'm going to comment on that subject. To not have that in the equation is misleading and odd because that is the subject matter.

So a disability is what you are in fact talking about and you think for the most part theme parks are doing a great job in past projects and future projects. I was just stating from a disabled persons view it is not always the case. It's my opinion. Example, the pathways are too small in the wizarding world of Harry Potter over at IOA and Animal Kingdom for wheelchairs. When they where conceived the designers thought to be true to the media at hand whether it be books, movies, or other sources they left out how would a person in a scooter or wheelchair fit in those areas.

In past boat rides it is difficult because of the transfer even if it is level. Unless you can secure a person in a wheelchair in the boat it's going to be difficult and the irony is there because of the movie.

Isn't Pandora's air toxic to humans so everyone will have a gas mask? That is another subject and for another tread.

From Daniel Etcheberry on March 3, 2014 at 10:15 AM
@ Josh,

The Frankenstein and Monroe comment is meant as a joke, but Universal should incorporate a movie soundtrack in the waiting areas. That's the least they could do.

Avatar Land's flying ride looks similar to Soaring which I have to transfer. About the boat ride, those kind of rides are not wheelchair accessible unless there are no drops. If there is one, then Avatar Land will be less ideal for someone in a wheelchair than the movie.

You have to be in a wheelchair to understand how exhilarating the concept of Avatar can be, and how frustrating a theme park can be.
-----------------------------------------------------------
Everyone check out the following link taken from the Avatar parody from Mad Magazine.

http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/t_ku-medium/18dxx7a5w9unqjpg.jpg

The image is very small, so you will have to change the size.

From Josh Young on March 3, 2014 at 12:23 PM
Apple Butter,

I apologize. You caught me. You read between the lines and saw that what I was in fact saying was that it's easy for people with disabilities to navigate through a theme park and ride attractions. Next time, when I comment on an article like this one - I will be more respectful and only make a comment about how I think Daniel shouldn't assume that unannounced attractions will be wheelchair accessible and that he shouldn't jump the gun. Lesson learned.

Daniel,

I need to apologize to you as well. I should have read having Marilyn Monroe and Frankenstein entertain disabled guests and their families as a joke.

And while Avatar's flying ride may look like a Soarin style ride, do you know that it's not? And if the boat ride doesn't have a drop, then there is a possibility that a wheelchair can transfer on to the vehicle. My point is, if the tone of the article was "I hope they think of people like me when they design these attractions", instead of "it doesn't look like I can", it gives the park the benefit of the doubt before you make an assumption.

The moment in the movie where someone in a wheelchair is no longer bound to it via his Avatar? I understand where that is totally relatable to you. Maybe Disney is going to make an attraction where you can experience that... or maybe they're not. There is no need to speculate or even write an article about it until more information becomes available, no?

From 184.35.2.80 on March 3, 2014 at 5:48 PM
After reading some of the comments in this post I feel very thankful and blessed.

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