Disneyland and Special Needs Families

My family just returned from our annual trip to California. We spent time at the beach, Hollywood, Los Angeles, and one day in the world of Mickey Mouse. There’s something about Disneyland that has a real hold on me. I absolutely adore it. Some of my favorite rides include the Indiana Jones ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain. But I also love browsing the little shops, slurping pineapple spears, listening to performers on Main Street, and watching the “Fantasmic” show. The crowds are a bit frustrating at times, of course. But going back to Disneyland every year is a bit like returning temporarily to my childhood. How wonderful it is that families of special needs children can go to Disneyland and have their unique needs met.

Special Accommodations

In my opinion, Disney gets an A+ for its treatment of families with special needs children. Every year, I bring my son Kyle to the Guest Relations office and I’m given a special assistance pass (SAP), allowing six persons in our party to use a shorter line for the rides. Of course, Kyle must be one of the six persons in the group in order for us to use the pass. Autistic children have a difficult time waiting in long lines. They can become agitated and even act out aggressively. Apparently Disneyland understands this predicament. This special accommodation has been a wonderful gift for our family. Not long ago the special assistance pass was discontinued, and then brought back after petitions and complaints.

The park also offers particular waiting areas and some wheelchair accessible lines. There are taxis, and vans with hydraulic lifts for transportation into the park. With advance notice, chefs at the park can prepare food with special dietary considerations for guests with food allergies or other concerns. There are assistive listening devices available for the hearing impaired, and sign language interpretation is available, free of charge, with advance notice. If your child’s disability is rare and requires extra assistance, call the Disneyland Resort directly and they will make every effort to make your visit trouble-free.

Disney to the Rescue!

Several years ago, my (then) ten-year-old son with juvenile diabetes accidentally left his diabetic kit on the Indiana Jones ride. It contained his insulin, syringes, glucometer, and test strips. He had left the kit in a net that’s designed to hold stray items during the rather turbulent ride. When he got out of the car, several minutes passed before he realized the kit was missing. We returned and asked the ride operators if they’d found it, but no luck. Very courteously, they checked every car, one by one, for the diabetic kit, but found nothing. Apparently, a subsequent rider had removed it. I felt a sense of panic. Here I was, many miles from home and had no way to get my son his needed medication, at least not without packing up and leaving Disneyland early in the day.

Yet there was no need to worry. Very quickly my son and I were escorted by Disney officials who transported us in a special car out of the park and to a local drug store. I was able to purchase insulin and supplies for my son, much to my great relief. We were then transported back to the park and given VIP treatment as we re-entered Disneyland. I was absolutely astounded—and truly grateful—for the kindness and generosity of the park employees.

Some People Will Take Advantage…

On this most recent Disneyland trip, I did observe a few groups of teenagers and young adults who were pushing someone from their party in a rented wheelchair, laughing and horsing around as they wheeled into the “handicapped” lines. It was obvious there was no real need for the chair. It made me disappointed that people will take advantage of special accommodations provided for the truly disabled in order to gain personal advantage. Disneyland is now requiring wheelchair-bound persons to wait a longer amount of time in line, probably due to the frequent abuse of this privilege.

Disney Babies

In addition to special accommodations for disabled persons, Disneyland also has a convenient baby station just past Main Street with “nursemaids” guiding you into a clean and comfortable area equipped with mini toilets, padded changing tables, rocking chairs, and high chairs. They also have any items for your baby which you may have inadvertently forgotten, such as pacifiers, diapers, baby formula, baby food…you name it. I’ve been surprised at how many of my friends and family members were not aware of this wonderful feature at the park, and instead changed their babies on a bench somewhere outside.

If you’ve dreamed of a trip to Disneyland or Disney World but can’t picture how you’d manage with your child’s disability, you might be pleasantly surprised. Disneyland has numerous amenities for families with special needs children. For more information about the accommodations available, click here.

Also, you’ll find TONS of great Disney information at our Disney (unofficial) blog!