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3 Ways to Improve Disney World for Wheelchair Users

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The Disney company is the gold standard for customer service throughout the world. If you ask any visitor of a Disney property, they will almost without exception assure you that the Disney Cast Members exceed every expectation in regard to kindness, general customer service and problem-solving skills. As a Disney-phile with a disability, I typically agree with this assessment as well.

Visiting Walt Disney World with a disability can be a daunting task. The size of the parks alone is enough to frighten the mobility-challenged among us. Add to that the general sensory overload and Florida heat, and going to Disney becomes like a climb up Mount Everest for many of us.

I recently visited WDW, and I was mostly thrilled with how well I was treated by Disney. I was traveling in my wheelchair (her name is Snookie), and as a result, I required extra accommodation. Almost every ride at WDW is accessible to those with mobility challenges (especially if you’re able to transfer from your wheelchair/scooter). Cast members were typically courteous about taking me to a wheelchair loading/unloading site for rides. There were areas available for me to cool off indoors when I was unable to handle the Florida heat. Disney far exceeds the somewhat low expectations I have learned to have for disability assistance.

woman sitting in wheelchair at disney world
Tiffany at Walt Disney World with her wheelchair

Having said all that, there is still room for improvement.

1. Please talk to me rather than about me.

I get it. If I’m in a wheelchair and my husband is pushing me, he is the person who is at eye level. It is probably more natural to speak to him than to look down at me. I’m aware, and I’m trying to withhold my judgment to the best of my ability (which doesn’t come naturally to me). But, jeez Louise, WDW! If one more person had looked at my husband and asked, “Can she walk a few steps?” I may have lost it. What part of seeing a person in a wheelchair automatically means that he/she cannot answer a simple yes or no question? I can assure you that I am more aware of my abilities than anyone else in my party. My husband is pushing my wheelchair. He is the Hodor to my Bran (“Game of Thrones” reference, anyone?). He is not my proxy. It seems safer to assume that I can answer for myself than to assume that I can’t. If I am, for some reason, unable to answer, my husband would reply. You’re making the whole situation awkward (and slightly dehumanizing) if you only acknowledge my disability and fail to recognize my ability.

2. I am a person — not a wheelchair.

This happened twice. That’s really not that bad in a weeklong stay. A Disney Cast Member would announce, “We have a wheelchair boarding in lane 8.” I would always respond, “With a person in it. The wheelchair has a person in it.” Again, I’m trying to be understanding. When you see me in my wheelchair in line for a ride you’re operating, I create a bit of extra work for you and your team. My apologies; I truly wish I could make both our days easier by being completely independent. However, that is currently not my reality. But, please, acknowledge me as a human first. It would have taken less than an extra second to say, “We have a guest in a wheelchair in lane 8.” I don’t mind the announcement; I’m pretty sure everyone around me had noticed the wheels below my butt. No worries. Just, please, for the love of all that’s good, don’t call me a wheelchair.

3. Enough with the cutesy paths.

WDW is home to the most brilliantly themed attractions I have ever seen. Every time I enter a park, I’m speechless for a moment by the sheer brilliance and creativity that must have gone into creating such a place. It’s marvelous and awesome in the truest sense of both words. Having said that, is it really necessary to have the theming extend to the walking/driving paths? As a person who spent seven days on wheels in the park, I would like to say — it’s too much after a while! I’m still taking medicine for the damage to my neck and back that occurred a month ago in the Happiest Place on Earth. I realize every person using a wheelchair doesn’t necessarily suffer from neck/back problems, but I am confident that everyone rolling through Disney has felt the effects the next day. Even children in strollers were bouncing out of their seats as their parents propelled them along the pathways. A smoothly paved pathway to the side (like a sidewalk) would save me and countless other Disney visitors from unnecessary pain. As it is, I want to cry when I think of brick paved streets.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all things Disney. I love them so much so, actually, that I hold them to a higher standard than the rest of the world of businesses. I was generally treated kindly by everyone. There were only occasional lapses. However, WDW, I think you’re better than that. Disney is a company that has proven continually that its goal is to give guests a magical experience. It’s certainly succeeding in my opinion. As WDW strives to improve, I hope they eventually make changes to these occasional hiccups I experienced. I am doing my best to live my life in spite of the daily challenges of chronic illness, and I am grateful for all those who make that possible.

In the meantime, it would be great if Disney would send me a little of their magic pixie dust to relieve my neck and back pain!

Follow this journey on Crazy Chronic Life.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment where you experienced intolerance or inaccessibility. What needs to happen to change this? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 27, 2016
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