Being part of a family that has multiple disabilities, we know how hard it is to travel while meeting ALL the needs. In my family of 5, we have mobility issues, heart issues, food allergies, and cognitive disabilities. It can be overwhelming, and it's difficult to know how to start. Disney has always worked hard to create a magical environment, and with proper planning, you can have an amazing vacation without your disability being the center of it.
Timothy is our youngest child. We had the joy of adopting him on Valentine's Day four years ago. Timothy came to us with many special needs, including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which affects his cognitive abilities. Some of that manifests in ways similar to autism and other cognitive disabilities.
The Disability Assistance Service is designed to help those who can’t stand in line for long periods of time for cognitive reasons. Disney cannot require a doctor’s note or any sort of documentation when you request this service, but do keep in mind that it is up to the cast member’s discretion on whether or not they believe it is required. For example, somebody with MS might be told to utilize a wheelchair or scooter, but a person with Asperger’s or Autism might be granted a DAS card with no issues.
The DAS card allows you to go to an attraction and get a return time for later in the day. This return time is at least the same length as the current wait time. For example, if you go to Anna and Elsa at 11, and the wait time is 2 hours, they will have you come back at 1. Once you have that return time, you can go and enjoy other attractions in the park, and return to the attraction with return time at ANY point after, which is different from a FastPass, which gives you an hour window. When you return to your attraction, simply present your card, and the Cast Member will direct you to the appropriate entrance.
The best way to utilize this service at is to alternate FastPasses and DAS card rides.
At Disney World, we start our first FastPass at 9:30, start the second around 11:30, and the third around 1:30. Once we arrive at the park, we immediately go to an attraction we do not have a FastPass for, and get a return time. Then we do the attractions that don’t need a FastPass until our first window. After our first FastPass, we go to our first DAS ride. As soon as that is finished, we go to the next attraction without a FastPass, and get a second return time on our card. Then, we go to our next FastPass attraction. We continue to alternate through the rest of the day. When booking your FastPasses, be sure to leave about an hour in between each one so that you can use the DAS card in between each time, and that should leave enough time to alternate the whole day.
Physical (Mobility) Disabilities
Both my daughter and I have a genetic disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It can affect pretty much every part of your body, which can be really tough. There are good days and bad days. On the good days, I can do everything, including run half marathons! On a bad day, even walking from my bedroom to the living room is painful.
Fortunately, Disney is wonderful with mobility disorders. Animal Kingdom was built in such a way that every single attraction can accommodate a wheelchair in every queue! Most attractions at all the parks in Disney World and Disney can accommodate a wheelchair, but for those rides that cannot, they have an alternate entrance that your party can use. Please keep in mind that when using an alternate entrance, sometimes the wait can be long if there are several wheelchairs. Each ride can only accommodate a limited number of wheelchairs at a time.
All of the shows that have seating have reserved rows for those who need to take in their wheelchair or ECV. The whole family will be sat together, so be sure to keep your party together! The fireworks shows and parades also have a handicapped section. Your party whole party will be allowed to stay together here as well, but be sure to arrive early, as the areas can fill up, especially if you have a larger family.
If you are like me, and you don't use a wheelchair in your everyday life, and need to rent one, you can do so either onsite with Disney, or you can use one of the many companies that will bring the equipment you need to your hotel door. If you choose to rent from Disney, they do offer a multiday discount. You will pick up your wheelchair or EVC at the park entrance, and return it there each day. They will give you a receipt to take to the next park, where you will pick up the next one. You will be given a courtesy wheelchair to use to get back to the parking lot, bus stop, or monorail.
If you are cruising and you have mobility issues, there are companies that will lease a wheelchair or EVC to you for the length of your cruise. Disney has many excursions with wheelchair accommodations for those who would like to explore. Just like the parks, the shows have special seating for those who need it.
Davalyn has the same genetic disorder I do. Hers primarily manifests itself with food allergies. She has eight different ones. Needless to say, that can make going out to eat or on vacation quite complicated! However, Disney has mastered taking care of food allergies.
All the chefs are amazing with food allergies. Prior to your trip, you or your travel agent should contact the dining team, and let them know that you are coming. They will give you a form to fill out that includes your dining reservations and what you are allergic to. If there is a need, or if you have any special requests, they will have a chef from your chosen restaurants call you. In most cases, Disney has separate kitchens for food allergies in order to protect against an anaphylactic reaction. They always have separate stations. If they are not able to use a separate kitchen, they will let you know. If you choose to dine at a buffet, the chefs will prepare your food in the kitchen so that you do not risk cross contamination with other foods on the buffet. You you arrive at a restaurant, and there is nothing you can eat, or nothing looks appetizing, talk to your chef. They will do everything they can to accommodate your needs.
Quick service is a bit trickier. Each location has a book with all the ingredients with each item on the menu. The location manager will come out and talk to you about your allergies and help you find something that works for you. Now, we had a time period where our son, Reese, was reacting to 16 different foods. There was not much on any menu that he could eat! So the quick service locations went well far and above with us. They took down his list of allergies, then prepared his food in a full service restaurant in the allergy kitchen. This process is time consuming, so I recommend that you set aside a good amount of time, and that you try to eat at off times to avoid crowds.
What to do if you have more complicated disabilities? Disney does their best to anticipate as many needs as possible, and to have good practices in place to make the process as smooth as possible. If you have disabilities that go beyond these standard accommodations, please reach out to guest services when you arrive, and talk to them about your needs. They will do everything in their power to accommodate you as best they can.