Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Doing Disney With Disabilities - Part 2

What do you do when your disability is not so obvious?  If you or your disabled loved one are anything like my husband, often he just wants to blend in.  He would rather endure a little (or extreme) pain and suffer rather than have to face the scrutiny (or just plain paranoia) that others are looking, staring, or judging.  Worrisome thoughts like, "Look at him, he doesn't need that ECV" or "They are just doing this to skip lines" or maybe you even overhear another person say, "Pfffft, guess I should have paid for a scooter!"

What if you are that vacationer that has severe PTSD, a panic disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or seizures?  What if you are afraid of people being too close to you and maybe you even get weak and feel like you are going to pass out when crowds are too large and people are all around?  Maybe you even collapse under stresses like these.  Unfortunately, all these are things that my husband has to endure plus a few more.  Yet, until our most recent April 2013 visit, I never thought about how Disney could accommodate these invisible disabilities.  Because John was usually in a wheelchair or used his walker, those injuries/disabilities were more apparent.   When he used a mobility device, we used the Wheelchair/Handicapped entrances to rides, thus typically bypassing those overcrowded and often long lines. 

Just before our April trip, I read somewhere about the Guest Assistance Card.  I knew John wanted to try to tackle this trip without his walker or wheelchair.  Matter of fact, we left the wheelchair at home and only packed the walker.  We decided we would just rent an ECV on the day(s) that he needed it while we were in the parks.  My breathing difficulties are so severe that I knew I couldn't be able to push him much during this trip even if he were to need the wheelchair.  I knew we would need this Guest Assistance Card more than ever. 

As usual on our first day, Magic Kingdom was our first stop. We headed straight to City Hall/Guest Services and I explained our situation to the cast member there.  I told him how John was a combat wounded vet who had severe PTSD, seizures, and anxiety and also told them that we didn't bring his wheelchair along like usual but he still had mobility issues with standing or walking for long periods of time.  

The cast member was gracious and put our information into the computer.  He stamped our pass with "May use an alternate entrance when possible" and also explained that he couldn't guarantee that it would work everywhere but encouraged us to "just ask" and to have a great vacation.  He also told us that sometimes the wait times may be longer using the card than the traditional ride entrance, etc. 

I have heard how this Guest Assistance Card can be a life saver for families traveling with children with disabilities also.  Children with Aspergers, Autism, sensory disorders, etc. can possibly benefit from the Card.  If you have thought about taking a disabled aging family member along on a vacation, this may be a good thing to keep in mind so your vacation is less of a hassle. You can always ask your travel agent or Guest Services on suggestions to make your trip more accommodating and magical.

Ok, here is my disclaimer!  I can't guarantee that Disney will accommodate any or all of your issues/disabilities.  I can say that during the last 3 years on at least 9 trips, we've only had one bad encounter with a cast member regarding disability accommodation.  Yes, it made me furious and practically ruined my entire day at the Animal Kingdom.  However, while we were at the Animal Kingdom Guest Services location, I overheard a cast member and a guest discussing her request for a Guest Assistance Card.  The guest apparently had diabetes and had gotten the Card in the past and the cast member did not want to giver her one for her current trip.  The cast member even asked her if she had her prior card or a letter from her doctor!  If you are considering asking for a Guest Assistance Card on your next trip, you may want to take along some type of documentation just in case you need it.  I would hate for your first Disney experience to be unnecessarily anxiety provoking.  While John has a VA ID card that states he is Combat Wounded and Service Connected, I thought about taking a copy of his Compensation Award letter on our next trip.  This way we would have documentation showing what his disabilities he is diagnosed with and you better believe that we're saving this current Card!

Invisible helper dog at Once Upon A Toy
During our April trip, I also noticed several service dog relief areas.  These areas grabbed my attention as we have been on a service dog waiting list for almost a year.  Hopefully, on our next trip we will have a service dog with us.  During our Halloween Party trip in October 2012, John jokingly grabbed this invisible dog/leash at Once Upon A Toy at Downtown Disney and said, "Look at me and my invisible helper dog!"

Whatever need or disability you have, chances are that Disney has a way to make your vacation a little more comfortable.  Even though we started off with 4 years of no family vacations, we now do Walt Disney because it caters to disabilities (both the visible and invisible), it is in John's comfort zone, and it helps turn an ordinary day into a magical escape. Read more about why we do Disney in this post.

If you have a question about Disney accommodating disabilities you can Click Here to go to their Q&A Page.

See our Doing Disney With Disabilities - Part 1 post

(Friends and readers: I am now a Travel Agent complete with graduating from the Disney College of Knowledge and I'd love to help you plan a magical vacation.  Email me at aflener1@gmail.com and Find the agency on Facebook - Our services are FREE from quotes to park plans and dining with qualifying vacation packages)

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