The Orlando theme parks provide some of the world’s most accessible vacation destinations. Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando accommodate millions of visitors each year, including many with varying degrees of physical and cognitive abilities.
Daniel Etcheberry has written about disability issues for us at ThemeParkInsider.com: “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.”
Many theme park attractions have been designed to accommodate people with mobility issues. On these attractions, a visitor may remain in a wheelchair throughout the experience, from the queue to the ride or show itself. On other attractions, visitors might need to bypass the regular queue and enter through a special entrance for wheelchair users. Many such rides also might require wheelchair users to transfer from their chair to a ride vehicle.
“Theme parks try to get as many guests as possible into their rides on a daily basis,” Daniel wrote. “This means that they rush everyone; it’s not a problem for body-abled people, but it can be challenging for disabled people who needs more time to get in and out of the ride’s vehicles. Cast members always tell the disabled that there is no rush, but when there are so many eyes looking at you, the situation becomes stressful.
“One example of a fast-paced loading ride is Soarin’; guests enter the ride when the previous ones are getting out of their seats. Someone in my party has to get my wheelchair and come back for me. Once I’m seated in my wheelchair, all the new guests are seated and waiting for me to get out and start their ride. That’s stressful. The Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean is more relaxing for me — or anyone disabled. The unloading area in another location, so the only person looking at you is the operator.”
Reader Tracy Bates added, “Toy Story Mania has the best loading area for the disabled in my opinion. Your ride vehicle is pulled from the queue so you can take as long as you need without holding up anyone and when you're ready to go, you’re just inserted back onto the main track to go through the ride. Also, you don’t have to transfer out of a regular wheelchair because you can just roll onto the vehicle and they’ll tie it in place.”
Walt Disney World has a webpage for visitors with mobility disabilities: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/mobility-disabilities/. That page lists all the attractions at the resort’s four theme parks where visitors may remain in their wheelchair at all times, where they must transfer to a Disney-provided wheelchair, where they must transfer to a ride vehicle, and where they must be ambulatory to experience the attraction (such as on certain playgrounds).
On attractions where riders must transfer, Disney’s cast member employees can help make that transition easier. Daniel wrote, “Test Track is very difficult to transfer because the vehicle’s seats are lower in height than the loading platform. But if you ask a cast member to let you transfer in the seat belt checking area, the vehicle will be at your same height.”
Disney rents wheelchairs and ECVs for guests who either wish to leave their at home or whose mobility or cognitive disability doesn’t typically require them to use a chair, but who would feel more comfortable having a chair for their day in the park. Wheelchairs cost $12 per day ($10 per day for a multi-day rental), while ECVs cost $50 per day. Other companies in the area also rent chairs to people visiting the parks.
For visitors with visual disabilities, Disney provides audio description devices and Braille guidebooks at its Guest Relations offices in each park. Ask at the front gate when you enter. A $25 refundable deposit is required when you pick up an audio description device or Braille guidebook.
For visitors with cognitive disabilities, Disney offers a variety of support. Companion restrooms are available throughout the resort, and Disney offers multiple ways that visitors with cognitive disabilities can avoid waiting in traditional queues. Visitors traveling with a person with a cognitive disability, such as placement on the autism spectrum, should make use of the Fastpass+ system to reserve as many experience times as possible. Once at the park, though, such groups can further plan their day by using a Disability Access Service Card. (The DAS has replaced the old Guest Assistance Card system.) Parties with a DAS Card may schedule a return time to any attraction, equal to the current standby wait time for that attraction. That way, you will not have to wait in the queue. You can learn more about the DAS system and how to get one on Disney's webpage for visitors with cognitive disabilities: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/cognitive-disabilities-services/.
On that webpage, you also may download a PDF “Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities.”
Universal Orlando has a webpage for guests with disabilities, at https://www.universalorlando.com/Resort-Information/Accessibility-Information.aspx. You can download a PDF rider’s guide from that webpage, which will detail access information for all of Universal Orlando’s attractions. Universal also employs a return time system for visitors with cognitive disabilities similar to Disney's DAS Card.