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WDW in a
Wheelchair/Scooter - Part II
If you would like to submit an article on touring WDW with special needs;
please email Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Reader Beth Floro provides her perspective on touring WDW in a wheelchair
1997 Trip Report covers the following areas:
Travel by air
Parades & Fireworks
"People *have* disabilities; handicaps *are imposed on* them." Peter Smith, _Handicapped In Walt Disney World: A Guide For Everyone_ (Dallas: SouthPark Publishing Group, Inc., 1993)
I have Degenerative Disc Disease, a form of arthritis that affects the spine; it limits my energy and activities. I had been to WDW three times "healthy", and once "hurt" (with my family) before taking this trip alone in March 1997. I used a cane, had arranged for wheelchair assistance at the airports, and at WDW had a scooter that I rented from Care Medical. One day I used a Disney rental scooter ($40/day, including $10 refund).
The following are just some tips and observations that may be of use to you if you are planning to do WDW in a chair. I do not use a wheelchair or scooter 95% of the time (I sometimes rent the ones available at our local Malls) so some of this may be "old news" to you.
First off - "Go!" If you are even considering a trip, do it! You can feel sore and sick at home, or you can feel sore and sick *there* - and you just might find you have a little fun and feel a little better *there*. You won't be able to "do everything", but if you realize that and plan accordingly, you can have a great time. I had to lay down and rest several hours each day - nobody said I couldn't do that by the pool!
TRAVEL (by air)
Use a suitcase that has wheels and a *sturdy* pull-strap. I travelled with a belly bag, a cane, a carry-on bag that I could sling across my shoulders, and my suitcase. If I was walking, I could manage all that. If I was being wheeled, I could set the carry-on & cane on my lap, and hold the handle of the suitcase so it rolled along beside my chair. (Till the day I headed home, when the combination of souvenirs and thick pile carpet proved too much for the pull-strap!)
Make - and double-check - arrangements for wheelchair assistance at the airport. They give you a stupid little sticker that you are supposed to wear, and board you on first and off last. You may be treated like *luggage*, but you will get where you need to go. I did encounter a couple of people who wouldn't talk to me directly just because I was sitting down, but in general the Skycaps & flight attendants are great. I also ask for a pillow right away; then I'll have it when I need it without the risk there won't be any later.
When the captain announces it's time to prep the cabin for landing, ring for a flight attendant and remind them that you will be needing a wheelchair. Often there will be a number of chairs waiting, but the attendants don't always remember who is supposed to get them.
*Tip big*. Skycaps get $1/suitcase here; I tipped $5 for wheeling both me and mine. When the Mears Shuttle driver lets you off, you plunk a nice amount of $$ in his/her hand and you get help right up to the door! It also helps in restaurants - people offer to open doors or move chairs for you. Oh, and don't wait for the last day to leave some $$ for housekeeping. I left a tip every morning and got great service. I had to leave my scooter in the room to recharge, and it was never disturbed. I know it's an extra pain to clean around.
Allow lots of time to make your connections. Skycaps in large airports can get overwhelmed (and "less friendly") at crowded times. It eases the panic when you know you've got lots of time to get where you need to be.
One downside of being wheeled through the airport - you can't *stop* to shop or use the bathroom. The Skycap will roll you up to the counter & check you in, and then park you and leave. If you can't get *yourself* around in a chair, you are *planted* there until someone decides to put you on the plane.
**Avoid the Philadelphia PA airport** -- You will be a *burden* there, and they will let you know about it! The run-about carts are not guaranteed to stop for you - even if you have double checked your "assistance" - and the drivers will let you off a "mile" from your gate, griping about it all the way. This is not only my opinion and experience, but also that of a disabled friend and a travel agent who specializes in handicapped travel.
If you need medication, keep it in your belly bag rather than your carry-on. Once the attendant has stowed your carry-on for you - remember, it goes on *first* with you, so is farthest back in the overhead bins - there is no guarantee they will be able to get it down for you in flight.
WDW is getting more accessible all the time. Having said that, I'd still like to break both of Michael Eisner's legs and turn him loose there in a scooter for a couple of weeks. I bet the new doors would be in place before the paint dried on the new ramps...
If you need to take medication at certain times, get a watch with an alarm you can set. I'm supposed to pop a pill at mealtimes, but I found I got so caught up in whatever was going on that I didn't eat at regular times, and therefor missed my meds. I only remembered that when I realized I *hurt*, and then realized what time it was. I'd take them asap, but I felt pretty miserable until the meds kicked in.
Strange but true - it helps if other people in your party wear white shoes at the park! You will find yourself watching *feet* quite a bit, in order to avoid ramming them, and the flash of white is *so* much easier to see (even in the daytime).
Smile big. Make the effort to be outgoing (even if you're not) and you become less "different". You get better service, and you get less resentment from the people you inconvenience.
Tip big. Your chair is a pain in the neck most places. "Make" them deal with it, but compensate them nicely.
Ask questions. Play dumb if you must, but ask. You may find you are able to go places and do things you have been told you "can't". People are hesitant to ask *you* about things, because they don't want to hurt your feelings if you can't walk or swim or whatever. One CM was shocked that I wanted to go to River Country. He said "It's just swimming!" I told him I knew that, and that I could swim if I could *get* there.
Be assertive. Don't be obnoxious. Loudly (if necessary) and with a *big* smile, point out how someone giving you the assistance you need will benefit *them*; as in - "EXCUSE me! I will be able to get on the plane a lot QUICKER and stop holding up EVERYBODY ELSE if you would bring me a WHEELCHAIR
Let other people help you when you need it. I had trouble with this! I was very insistent on doing things myself until one day late in my trip. I had to have a rope barrier opened so I could get my scooter through. A husband started working furiously to find the part that opened, and I said something to the wife about how he didn't need to make such a fuss. She said "He needs to do it - for him." Oh. Yes, it does make people feel better about themselves when they can help someone who needs it.
At WDW, if you are in a standard wheelchair, and have good arm strength or a good "pusher", you can go anywhere! All buses, boats & monorails will take you. If you are in an extra-large chair, a motorized chair, or a scooter, you can go *almost* anywhere. The bus lifts and one type of boat are the notable "exceptions" (see below).
Because the handicapped bathroom stalls have grip bars at waist level, the toilet paper dispenser has to be hung either above or below the bar. You may find the paper up by your ear, or down by your ankles!
Carry a decent snack with you. Sometimes you will be stuck in a line and really need a boost, and it just isn't possible to get out, get a snack, and get back in line. Keep the blood sugar level, and you keep your disposition level - and it really helps to stay "nice" when you are in a situation where you frequently (A) cause other people inconvenience (B) have to ask for help (C) get stared at just for being there.
Strange but true - beware of cobblestones and boardwalks if you have "dangly" jewelry! I had something shake loose as I scootered my way over the rough terrain. I didn't feel it come off and didn't notice it was gone till later.
Sunblock everything! Remember especially the backs of your hands and tops of your knees and feet - they will be in constant sun and will get fried.
Remember also that plastic and metal get quite hot. Take a big beach towel (or room towel) to sit on and to cover the scooter when you are not in it. I hate to wear shorts and have the back of my thighs fuse to the seat!
On my last scooter trip I stayed at the All*Star Music and found all doors to the main building were automatic - very nice! This time I was at the Beach Club - not so nice, as far as doors go. Almost all doors there are push/pull types, and they are not "attended". Many of them lead out to stairs, so are useless to me. I had to go a "half a resort" out of my way to get to one of the doors on ground level. (BTW, the Yacht Club and Beach Club are "sister" resorts; next to each other, but *not* connected! You must go outside to get from one to the other.)
I am able to get off my scooter, open the door, hold it open, and guide the scooter through - but it's a lot easier if I don't have to do that! I found I could get *out* of the building by slowly driving the scooter up and "ramming" the doors - they are not heavy - but getting *in* was a problem. The doors I had to use were not in the highest traffic areas, and I had to ask people to come over and let me in, or I'd wave my arm and flag down somebody who was inside. (I felt like a cat, meowing to be let in the house!) I had the room nearest the elevator, so I didn't have to walk very far if I was using my feet.
The parks are no problem as far as ramps and doors go. You may have to maneuver in very tight quarters, but you can do it. The Disney Village Marketplace is unique in that it is all on one level (ramps are no problem) but each shop keeps its door closed! Last year every shop had a CM there, ready to open or close the door for me. This year I had to ask somebody for help at every one!
Some of the shops (especially Rainforest Cafe shop) have incredibly high counters! You will feel like a toddler again, craning your neck to see your change or sign your charge slip.
Sit-down restaurants and free-standing food carts are not a problem. Life gets *interesting* at the "counter service" or "cafeteria style" places... There is often a "wheelchair/hearing impaired" line, but just as often the sign telling you *which* line is placed where you can't *see* it if you're in a chair! On the plus side, the CMs are quick to offer help with your tray. I learned to balance the tray on one arm and drive with the other - it was a little bit quicker, and it was something I felt I needed to do for myself.
If you're able to walk and are at a buffet, ask for a table close to the food. You may need to park your chair or scooter and walk to that table, but I think it evens out.
WDW WATER PARKS
If someone in your party is on wheels, and you want to go to a water park, go to *Blizzard Beach*. It is crazy and crowded, yes, but it is also completely accessible, even to the "handicapped entrance" to the creek! Note what others have said - because it is so new, the trees are not mature and there isn't much shade. Get there very early and stake out your spot. Also note that the handicapped car parking section is closest to the entrance, while the Disney bus stop is farther away than even regular car parking.
Typhoon Lagoon is about 1/2 accessible. Many of the walkways are covered with sand or very narrow.
River Country also is about 1/2 accessible. You would also need very strong arms or a very strong pusher just to get to it, as they are "improving" a building along the walkway and you have to go over open grass.
WDW PARADE AND FIREWORKS VIEWING
Certain spots in each park are designated for wheelchairs. Each park is different in how they handle this area, the MK being the most organized, and Disney-MGM Studios being the least. All areas are marked on the guidemaps, and *they fill up about an hour before the event*, sometimes earlier. I learned to bring my postcards for the day, and some food, and settle in.
MK - Attentive CMs will park you together as close as possible, and will usually allow your whole party (a "party" is up to 5 others) in the area with you. This varies with the crowd conditions. They (the CMs) talk to you, make sure nobody gets in who shouldn't, and make sure you don't get blocked or bumped by passers-by.
Magic Kindgom -- Best sunny spot for daytime parade - the Hub. (This is too sun-intense for hot days). Best shady spot for daytime parade - across from the Hall of Presidents. Best nighttime spot for both parade and fireworks (with a view of Tinkerbell's slide) - the Hub. (Stay and watch one "right" after the other.)
Epcot - No daytime parade. Nighttime *Illuminations* viewing is very good from the spot near the UK. There is a great view, and there are benches for the rest of your party. You should note that there is a stiff breeze off the water, and it can feel chilly even on warm nights. The CMs aren't as attentive, but you can flag them down to get in or out.
MGM - The Wheelchair *Pits*! - Daytime parade viewing area is small, and your family may not be in with you. It is also in "mostly sun".
Nighttime Fireworks viewing is the worst experience I had in a chair! The areas are marked on the guidemaps, but there is *no* CM in attendance. (I sat in front of the Great Movie Ride.) You are on your own to fight your way in, and people w/o chairs feel free to be there also. There was a rope across the area, but it was fastened at the "open" end to a sandwich-type sign - not a pole fastened in the ground. Little kids played on the other end of the rope, which in turn pulled the sign over on to a couple of us - ouch!
Since no CM was patrolling the area in front of us - it was supposed to be a walkway - people felt free to stand there... and then put their *kids* up on their shoulders! Then, because the walkway was crowded, other people would push past, ramming into our chairs and scooters as they went. (I plan to write a letter of complaint, and to try the other designated area - near SuperStar TV - if I ever go back for fireworks viewing.)
Buses - All buses now have wheelchair lifts. (REMEMBER: **back** your chair/scooter onto the lift!) If you are in a standard wheelchair, you will have no trouble. There are 3 kinds of lifts (this info from a CM driver) and they are 3 different sizes. I was using a "small", three-wheeled rental scooter, and it was too long in the carriage for one of the lifts. We did get it aboard after several tries - and after repeatedly ramming the "roll bar" so that the tip wheels gouged grooves into the back tires! (Had to get a replacement rental.) On the other hand, another type of lift took the scooter with room to spare.
You can never tell which type of lift you're going to get when the bus pulls up. The CM drivers are wonderfully patient and helpful, but it is a pain for them to hassle with a scooter that doesn't want to fit. Take a deep breath, smile big, thank them profusely, and forget about *the hot, tired, angry people who can't get on the bus until the driver finishes futzing around with YOU!* ;-)
One lift would not let down the safety gate so I could get off unless the bus was on completely level ground. CM driver Joe tried several times, and finally had to drive me around to an empty section of the MK bus stop to find a place that would do. He said that kind of lift has to push on the ground to work and the pressure must be equal or it won't.
There are 4 seatbelts that are supposed to attach to you and to the chair. It depends on the driver how many they will make you fasten. They may ask if you want to stay on the scooter or sit in a regular seat.
Boats - The ferry from the TTC to MK is no problem. If you are in a scooter, you just drive on. If you are in a wheelchair, you roll up on to the (huge) ramp, then *turn around* and *back* onto the ferry. This is because the angle of the ramp is so steep that if you don't turn, your front wheels will hit the deck and you will *stop*. I saw a Grandma catapult a little kid right off her lap because Grandpa didn't back her on.
The "Friendships" (boats) that go around Epcot, Boardwalk, YC/BC, Swan & Dolphin, & MGM **are** scooter accessible. The _Guidebook for Guests With Disabilities_ says they are not, but the CM's running the boats told me they have all gotten new ramps since that was published. I found these the easiest and most pleasant way to get around in my scooter.
The boat from MK to Discovery Island, Fort Wilderness & River Country, and Wilderness Lodge is *not* scooter accessible. A wheelchair can make it (I've seen it done), but some "ports" (i.e. FW/RC) are not set up to let a scooter get *off*.
Monorail - scooter accessible, but not the easiest way to go IMO. You must wait for a CM to put down a ramp for you, and then you scoot on. These ramps are not one bit wider than they have to be! The CM will ask where you're going, and then they are supposed to call over to your stop and tell them you're coming, so they will get you a ramp there. One time this did not happen, and I was nearly left on! I stuck my cane out the door and waved it up and down, while a guest got off and tracked down a CM for me. Most often you will have to *back* down the ramp to get off, and I personally don't have a good track record with that procedure...
I didn't do too many "rides" this visit, though I have done most of them on my other scooter trip. A few "new" ones:
Spaceship Earth (Epcot) - The CM told me I would get on a lot faster if I could park and walk. I believe he was right. The line moved right along, and though I was a little shaky on getting on and off that moving walkway, I had no major trouble. My big mistake was parking my scooter by the *entrance*, because the *exit* is quite a distance away. It would have been better for me to park at the exit and do all my walking at once, then have my wheels nearby when I got off.
Universe of Energy (Epcot) - CM asked if I could walk a little. I parked the scooter and walked in, grabbing a seat on one of the few benches for the pre-show. Then I walked to the ride vehicle. People in standard wheelchairs are able to take them on the ride vehicles - you go up a little ramp and sit in the back row of the "car". It's not a bad view, and not a lot of fuss. You are let out very near the entrance and I walked back to my scooter.
Honey I Shrunk the Audience (Epcot) - I had done this a year before in my scooter, and had no problem. This year I was just driving past the line and the CM thought I wanted to see the show. He told me that I had to walk in or transfer to a wheelchair, as they no longer let *rental* scooters in the theater (you could take it in if you owned it). I can only guess it is something to do with the electrical systems and the special effects of the show.
Backlot Tour (MGM) (walking/tram tour) - You can take your scooter right on to the tram, but you have to be able to duck *very* low in order to get your head under the "gull wing" entrance door.
Backstage Pass to 101 Dalmatians (MGM) (walking tour) - I had done this before on a Disney rental, and got hung up several times in tight corners. This year Disney has a new fleet of rental scooters and they are a little smaller. It was still a bit tight, but I never got stuck. The CM will have you lead the "pack", and will direct you to the row and parking spots you should take.