Updated 12/25/18. As the parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum, life has its challenges. Although my daughter is now in her teen years, when she was younger social outings were almost impossible. We fell in love with Disney once we realized navigating through the parks was indeed plausible and even enjoyable for guests with disabilities.
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Walt Disney World Resort has a myriad of systems in place to help guests with disabilities. These services at the parks and hotels allow guests with disabilities manage a day or week stay while still experiencing the magic of a Disney Resort vacation.
Navigating Disney World for Guests with Disabilities: Cognitive Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Guests who exhibit cognitive disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder can find a host of services to transition their visit into a rather extraordinary day.
Disability Access System (DAS)
The Disability Access System (DAS) allows guests who may have difficulty waiting in queues a virtual pass to return to the attraction, much like a FastPass+ ticket. This option was my saving grace for my daughter when we visited as she struggled with crowds and downtime.
Guests requiring a DAS pass need to check-in with Guest Services at any park entrance. No proof or doctor’s note is needed. Once the pass is obtained, then an attraction is chosen and Guest Services will administer a return time to that selected location. The guest and party can enjoy the park or even ride other attractions while waiting for the specified time. Only one attraction per DAS at a time is allowed. Guests utilizing the DAS may also use it in conjunction with the FastPass+ system.
Guests who are visiting the Resort needing a wheelchair or ECV solely for a disability do not need the DAS pass.
Mobility devices such as strollers, wheelchairs and Electronic Conveyance Vehicles (ECVs) are available for rental at any Walt Disney World Resort theme park. For guests who may need them specifically for any cognitive disability stop by Guest Services to retrieve the correct identifying tag. This tag recognizes the guest’s need to remain in the vehicle due to the disability.
Throughout the Resort, companion restroom facilities are available for everyone, not just guests with disabilities. These locations are larger than typical restrooms which can accommodate companion assistance should the guest need it.
If the day becomes too much for the guest to handle, there are plenty of quiet break areas for regrouping. I found these locations quite useful with my daughter when she become over-stimulated or felt too crowded. Ask a cast member for the nearest break area.
This option is utilized by parties with more than two guests in it. It allows for companions to ride an attraction while another companion/parent waits with the person who does not ride. The parties then switch places without having to wait in line again. Visit Guest Services for this option.
Guides for Disney World Attractions for Guests with Disabilities
Each park has specific attractions with lights, sounds, and motion which can be troubling to guests with disabilities. Check with Guest Services for these available guides or download them from the Walt Disney World Resort website.
Pre-Planning and Preparing
Knowing beforehand for any vacation is key to navigating smoothly. When a member of the party has a cognitive disability, preparing for a Walt Disney World Resort trip is even more essential.
Parents and companions working with autistic people know to script events to help the person deal with the situation at hand. This works well with vacation planning. The Walt Disney World Resort website has all the tools needed to help the individual feel at ease prior to visiting. A few suggestions include:
- Studying maps for familiarity
- Practice waiting in line
- Script crowd scenarios
- Watch videos about Walt Disney World Resort
- Plan and study a visual itinerary to include reacting to different stimuli
What to Bring to Disney World
When traveling with a person who may exhibit a cognitive challenge, an emergency kit can help alleviate any unexpected crisis. Items in the kit can help the person adapt to the social outing without feeling overloaded. Items to include are:
- Sensory toys
- Nametags/medical ID
- Markers for positive reinforcements
- Favorite item/toy/device
The Disney Parks as a whole strive for inclusivity of all guests and work to achieve that during all visits. If you have questions regarding a person in your party who has cognitive disabilities, contact Walt Disney World Resort Guest Services.
Navigating Disney World for Guests with Disabilities: Guests with Hearing Disabilities
For those guests with hearing disabilities, Walt Disney World Resort offers several services to ensure their visit to the Resort is easy and enjoyable.
Guest Room Amenities
The Walt Disney World Resort hotel provide a Guest Communications kit which can provide support to guests with hearing disabilities. Upon request, the guest can receive a kit which contains door knock and phone alerts, smoke detector with strobe light, bed shaker notification, phone amplifier, and TEXT Typewriter (TTY) telephone. The room will be equipped prior to the guest’s arrival.
Disney’s handheld devices is a service for guests with hearing disabilities. The devices are available at a first-come, first-serve bases at all four theme parks- Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Guests need to put down a $25 refundable deposit to reserve the device.
This option on the handheld device intensifies sound through the headphones or an induction loop. This is only available at specific attractions.
This second option with the handheld device is a portable captioning system. This displays on-screen texts at select theater and attraction locations.
Guests with hearing disabilities can also utilize video captioning with the device. Select locations also offer video captioning (available without the device). Ask a cast member at that location for assistance.
Sign Language (Request for Interpreter)
A sign language interpreter is available at specific live action theme shows based on rotation. The schedule is updated weekly and a copy can be obtained at any Walt Disney World Resort Guest Services location. An interpreter is in the four parks on select days.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom– Tuesdays and Saturdays
- Magic Kingdom– Mondays and Thursdays
- Epcot– Fridays
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios– Sundays and Wednesdays
Special requests given 14 days prior to arrival can be arranged for interpretation at these locations:
- Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue
- Disney’s Spirit of Aloha
- Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour
Walt Disney World Resort delivers a few other options for guests with hearing disabilities including written aids, text typewriters, and reflective captioning. For more information, inquire at any Guest Services location.
Navigating Disney World for Guests with Disabilities: Guests with Visual Disabilities
For those guests with visual impairments, Walt Disney World Resort provides several services to ensure a magical experience.
The audio description is available through the handheld device previously mentioned. Guests can utilize this system which will provide a secondary audio track describing the event/program.
Guidebooks are another service for those guests with disabilities including visual disabilities. Large print text and Braille guidebooks feature descriptions of events, stores, and attractions.
Guests can also pick up portable tactile map booklets for use. These booklets provide a tactile option highlighting boundaries and landmarks for each land/area of the different theme parks. These guides are available at a first-come, first-service basis at Guest Services locations. There is a refundable $25 deposit.
Stationary Braille Maps
In addition to the Braille Guidebooks, guests can use the Braille maps found at all theme parks, Disney Springs, and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. These relief maps feature large print with a Braille overlay to showcase important features of each location. First aid, restrooms, and service animal relief areas are included.
And, resort select table-service restaurants offer Braille menus for guests with visual disabilities. Inquire with a cast member for availability of menus.
Wheelchairs and Electronic Conveyance Vehicles (ECVs) are available for rental at Walt Disney World Resort for all visitors, not just guests with disabilities.
Wheelchair rentals cost $12 per day or $10 per day for multiple days. There is a $100 refundable deposit for wheelchairs rented at Disney Springs and water parks.
ECVs require a $20 refundable deposit at theme parks and $100 refundable deposit at Disney Springs and water parks. Rental is $50 per day.
Both wheelchair and ECVs rental is transferable between hotels and the theme parks. Both are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Walt Disney World Resort attractions provide access for guests with motor disabilities in a variety of ways. Check the website list to view the easiest pathway to boarding the attractions including:
- Remaining in a wheelchair
- Transferring from EVC/wheelchair to the ride
- Transferring from ECV to wheelchair
- Must be ambulatory
With so many shows and events at Walt Disney World Resort, lighting and special visual effects can be overstimulating for some guests. It is recommended for those visitors who are photosensitive or may have seizure disorders to verify with their physicians for exact instructions prior to visiting the Resort.
Navigating Disney World for Guests with Disabilities: Accessibility to Transportation
The inclusivity for guests with disabilities continues with accessibility to travel easily throughout Walt Disney World Resort on the buses, monorails, watercrafts, and motorcoaches.
Bus routes are equipped to accommodate wheelchairs and ECVs/scooters as long as the vehicle easily fits the bus lift and can be secured safely inside.
Guest with disabilities concerning mobility can board the monorail system at the Transportation and Ticket Center, Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. All areas listed are fitted with elevators and ramps for easy entrance/exit.
Access to boats, ferries, and other watercrafts is weather dependent. Just check with an assisting cast member at the water dock for a current assessment.
Disney’s Magical Express Access
These Resort motorcoaches can accommodate most wheelchairs and ECVs. Guests must book reservations to utilize Disney’s Magical Express.
Parking is available for all guests including providing accommodations or disabled parking. A valid disabled parking permit is required and standard parking rates apply. Guests who have their own wheelchairs, ECVs or other support vehicles should park in the disabled parking lots which are located closely to each theme park entrance.
Navigating Disney World for Guests with Disabilities: Service Animals
Service animals are welcome with open paws and hooves at Walt Disney World Resort for guests with disabilities. The Resort defines a service animal as either a dog or miniature horse that is trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of guests with disabilities.
The service animals must be leashed and is the owner’s sole responsibility to keep control of the service animal at all times. Cast members are not allowed to interfere.
Due to the variety of attractions at Walt Disney World Resort, service animals may not be permitted to ride. Ask a cast member at these locations for options including Ride Switch or a portable kennel. Contact Disability Services for more information.
Restricted Locations for Service Animals
These are the service animal restricted locations listed on the Walt Disney World Resort website.
MAGIC KINGDOM PARK
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- The Barnstormer
- Space Mountain
- Mission: SPACE
- Test Track
- DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
- Rock “n” Roller coaster Starring Aerosmith
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Star Tours- The Adventure Continues
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Slinky Dog Dash
DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM PARK
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Kali River Rapids
- Expedition Everest- Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
- Primeval Whirl
Locations where Service Animals are Permitted with Caution
Check with attending cast members for attraction and boarding at these locations.
MAGIC KINGDOM PARK
- Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
- Stitch’s Great Escape
- Spaceship Earth
- Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
- It’s Tough to be a Bug!
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
- The aviary area of Maharajah Jungle Trek
Relief Areas for Service Animals
Any open outdoor area can be used for service animal relief as long as the owner picks up after the animal and leaves the location clean. Areas are at the theme parks, hotels, and other guest areas.
Services at Walt Disney World Hotels for Guests with Disabilities
All hotels on Walt Disney World Resort property offer services for those guests with disabilities including wheelchair accessible rooms and hearing accessible rooms. For TTY access, notify a cast member upon check-in arrival.
For guests with mobility impairments, all hotels have accessible paths of travel including into the lobby area, laundry facilities, exercise rooms, pool areas, restaurants, and shops.
These convention locations also offer accessible pathways:
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
- Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
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- Disneyland Disabilities Guide
- Walt Disney World Resort Dining Plans
- Walt Disney World Resort Cheap Food Eats
- Character Guide to Walt Disney World Resort
- Walt Disney World Resort Transportation Guide