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Disney World with a Visually Impaired, Blind, or Handicapped Child
Disney World is one of the ultimate stops for families with children. There are numerous hotels, several theme parks, and two water parks that can be overwhelming even to families without special needs kids. For those of us who do have special needs kids the labyrinth becomes that much harder to navigate; however, here are some helpful tips I found while recently visiting Disney World with my visually impaired.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
First, the staff at Disney World's theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and transportation vehicles are there to help in any way they can. I have been to Disney World several times and I have not come across a single staff member who would not do everything in their power to help any guest with any problem. They are there to serve and help and that is exactly what they do. From helping with luggage, to pushing a wheelchair, to getting a first aid kit, and more, they are there to do all they can to make your vacation happy and memorable. So, do not be too shy to ask them for anything.
Second, if you look at the picture to the right, the foot traffic at the theme parks at Disney World are unbelievable. From the time the park opens, to the time the park closes there are wall-to-wall people everywhere. So, if you have a large group, I would recommend every one wear the same brightly colored t-shirt. The bright colors are easier to see, especially on young children who can get lost easily. In addition, for those of us who have to tote around walking canes or push wheelchairs and strollers, the crowd can be very difficult to navigate. This difficulty can be alleviated by providing a wheelchair or stroller for any family member who has any kind of mobility problems, including tiring easily or one who normally uses crutches, a walker, or wheelchair. The parks have handicap ramps just about every where and wheelchairs and strollers can get through a crowd pretty fast. If you have a reservation anywhere, be sure and set out a bit early. You never know how bad the crowd of visitors may be. Also, get a park listing for parades. Parades can cut through your route and deter you from being able to get to your destination. On another note, I have heard conflicting ways to use walking canes in the parks. I have heard visually impaired or blind people say they take their cane to the park and are successfully able to use it. My child, being younger, did not use a walking cane and opted to sit in a stroller for the duration of our stay at Disney World. I can see how using a walking cane would be difficult with the crowd and it may be easier to simply hold someone's hand or arm for better stability. This, of course, depends on your preference. Just keep in mind that there are crowds that can be tough to navigate and getting a park map is very useful, with or without special needs kids.
Hands On Activities
Third, I think the best way for a special needs child to get the most from a visit to Disney World is through hands on experiences like character interactions, dressing up as characters, and a few hands on activities Disney World offers. Character interactions, including character dining experiences, are available at every Disney World theme park. In some cases, various Disney characters can be seen strolling about the park; however, these characters usually have a line half an hour long. Select Disney characters also have their own meet and greet station somewhere in the park, again there are lines here that are any where from half an hour to an hour long. I recommend using the pricier character dining option. If you know one character that your child would absolutely love to meet you can look through Disney's character dining options and find that character at any one of the theme parks or on-site hotels. Character dining offers the meet and greet experience without the long wait, especially for those children who are not able to cope with waiting up to an hour to meet their favorite characters. Disney also offers a princess, prince, and pirate dress up experience at various price ranges at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League. This hands on experience allows children to be more interactive in becoming their favorite character. I will warn, however, these make overs take up to an hour and may not be suitable for children who are not accustomed to being seated for long periods of time. Additionally, Disney offers only a small variety of hands on activities at DIsney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and The Grand Floridian Resort. There are a few drawing stations and computer simulations at Disney's Hollywood Studios; Rafiki's Planet Watch at Disney's Animal Kingdom has some hands on activities, including touching and feeding animals; Epcot has computer simulators at various locations throughout the park; and The Grand Floridian Resort offers a Wonderland Tea Party and Pirate Adventure on select days for a fee. I know parent involvement is required for some of these and most, if not all, are handicap accessible. These activities are great opportunities for you to spend time with your child and the rest of your family can join in too.
Hubs on Travel Destinations
Assistive Technology Device
For older kids and adults with visual impairments or other special needs, Disney World also offers an assitive technology device that allows audio and visual navigation of the parks. The device uses GPS to navigate your position in the park and give some information about that area of the park. It can even lead you to the nearest bathroom, restaurant, or ride queue. It is available at the Guest Relations offices located at the front of the park.
The must-have guide to getting through a Disney World vacation with a special needs child.
More literature on having a great trip with children.
A guide to getting through the theme parks with younger children.
The Best Kept Secret of Disney World
Finally, one of the best kept secrets of Disney World is the Guest Assistance Card (GAC). All families with special needs child(ren) should ask for the Guest Assistance Card at Guest Relations, located at the front of every theme park. Once you have a GAC you can use it for the duration of your trip. It is personalized for every individual child or family's needs. For example, a visually impaired or blind guest can have a GAC that allows them to sit in the front of theaters or auditoriums for shows; or a disabled or handicapped guest can get a GAC that allows them to use an alternative handicapped accessible entrance to rides; or an autistic child who can not tolerate the wait in long lines can get a GAC that allows them a shorter wait time. There is also an audio tour of the parks available for blind or visually impaired guests that you can also get from Guest Relations. The Guest Assistance Card is extremely convenient for families with special needs kids; however, I would like solicit a few words of caution: everyone at Disney World is looking to have a fun time and it would not be fair to abuse the card. For instance, my family only used it when we were with our visually impaired child. When our other children and my husband wanted to go on Splash Mountain, they took a Fastpass and returned at the designated time. So, please use the card for what the card was created to do: Help your special needs child have the best time they can have at Disney World.
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Now you have a few pointers on getting through your Disney World vacation with a visually impaired, blind, or handicapped child. I know these are not the only tips you will need to have a great time but I know they will help you. If you find yourself struggling to maintain your sanity, just remember that you are there for your child or children. You are there to create happy memories for them and they are all that matters. Even if you end up sitting on a bench trying to take a break from all the chaos around you, they will just remember your happy, smiling face. Keep your cool, best advice I can give you.
Again, this is a must have book for parents with special needs.
© 2012 morningstar18