The Disney Disability Pass: The Not so Mickey Mouse Approach to Enjoying the Parks
Note: The Walt Disney World Disability Access Pass has changed since since the initial publishing of this article. Please visit https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/disability-access-service/ for current information regarding Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS).
Don’t tell everyone, “My husband pleaded. “If you write about the Disney Disability Pass then everyone will know about it (and spoil it for us), “he added. We had just come back from a wonderful trip to Walt Disney World with our son, Wyatt. The previous trips had not been what dreams were made of. In fact, they had been difficult at best.
My husband was referring to was the Walt Disney Disability Pass
Although friends and family had told us about the pass, I was not willing get one for our son. You see I did not want to accept, what I believed, was “a prize” for my son’s diagnosis. I wanted to consider that the trips were a form of therapy.
Wyatt’s challenges with Sensory Integration and Autism Spectrum Disorders made it tough to believe that we were always visiting the happiest place on earth.
All of this lead to an intervention. It was Easter Sunday and the Magic Kingdom was packed. My husband and sister-in –law pulled me aside. “We need to talk,” they began, “you never ask for anything extra but today you ARE going to.” I knew where the conversation was leading. I also observed by the way their bodies were positioned, that I had no choice. And so, I entered Guest Services at the Magic Kingdom.
A kind and friendly “cast member” greeted me and asked me what were my concerns regarding our son’s ability to enjoy the park. As a fierce Momma Bear who usually totes binders of data and diagnosis, I felt “unarmed” for a moment. All I had was the voice from my heart.
At first I stammered and then the words began to pour out. For a moment I thought I might be on trial or held in judgment. But the kind and gentle cast member simply smiled, nodded and asked my son’s name, how long we would be in the park and the number of people in our party. She then explained how the pass worked and wished me a “magical day.”
For an instant, I thought about letting loose a big yell, “Whoooooooo!” Since I was accustomed to advocating like my hair was on fire, I realized that this one victory that could be celebrated all day long. I contained my Homer Simpson exuberance and simply smiled and said, “Thank you!”
This pass has given my family and me a whole new lease on life while visiting the theme parks of Walt Disney World. We have returned many times. Each visit marked a new experience and a celebration of our son’s triumph over his challenges. Here is what we have learned and want to share:
Honor the Pass
The pass allows you to gain access to most rides and shows through an alternative entrance. This will often be the “Fast Pass” entrance but you will want to double check before entering. Several times we were not able to use the pass due to the park being at capacity or for other reasons. Since the pass is a privilege, remember to remain flexible.
Don’t be Greedy
We also tell our son that since Mickey has given us this special pass, we only use it once per ride. Out of respect for other park customers, we never jump back in line when there is a wait. For example, we went on Space Mountain on Christmas Day. Our wait was 20 minutes. The rest of the folks in line were waiting for over two hours. When we finished our son said – “Do again!” We took this opportunity to give a teachable moment on ethics.
Know before You Go
Review the park map. Take the time to determine an itinerary. This is a good idea when you have other children or guests in your party. When you use the pass, you all have to ride together. There may be points that older or typically developed children want to ride something different. Build that into your route by planning breaks.
Research the Rides
Youtube is an amazing resource. It’s a great way to allow your child to see, hear and experience what each ride will be like. Our son had checked out all of these before our last visit. He was narrating the ride for us. It also helped prepare him for the “spooky or scary parts.
It’s a Journey not a Sprint
Each time we have visited one of the Disney parks, we witness our son’s ability to tolerate and experience new things. We started out just playing in Pooh’s House and riding the train around the Magic Kingdome. We advanced to face painting and riding roller coasters. It didn’t happen overnight. Try to celebrate each new adventure. It’s a wonderful way to measure your child’s development.
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2011 Magazine