When Disney wants to sell you something for an obscene amount of money, they always cite the “Disney Difference.” The extra touch of magic, that peppy smile from the cast members, that further mile they go to make your vacation a truly special one.
We Disney bloggers and super-fans like to throw this phrase right back in their faces whenever Disney does something we don’t like. I’m no exception.
But I was never made more astutely aware of how phenomenal the Disney Difference truly can be than the first time I visited Disney as a disabled person.
I’m not what you typically imagine as a disabled person. My legs work fine, but my autonomic system doesn’t. This means I can’t walk very far without getting sick, and it also means my digestive system requires very specific food. So I need mobility and dietary assistance, and I also have to carry a feeding pump attached to my abdomen wherever I go.
Before I took my first mobility-assisted Disney trip, I was really self-conscious about using the wheelchair. I was worried about the looks I’d get, especially when I stood up from the chair to transfer to the ride vehicle, seemingly perfectly fine. And I did get a lot of those looks. Which reminds me…
Not all disabilities are visible. Including mine. Just because someone doesn’t look explicitly disabled does not mean that they don’t need that parking space, wheelchair, scooter, or whatever assistance they’re using. Believe me, they’d rather not have to use it. The amount of people who abuse accessibility aid is negligible compared to the amount of people with invisible disabilities who are harassed for using these aids that they sorely need because they don’t “look the part.”
Anyway. Moving on.
Those looks never came from any Disney Cast Members. These people are obviously thoroughly trained in accessibility. They never “talked down” to me, they effortlessly and automatically directed us towards the ramps (which were abundant and easily located), every cast member knew whether I was allowed to take my bag on the ride (I always was as soon as I made it clear that it was medically necessary).
Any time I boarded a train or monorail, a cast member asked me where I was getting off, and then a ramp was waiting at my carriage to help me onto my destination’s platform. Automagically.
When I ate a meal at a restaurant, the chef would helpfully come out to work with me on what food they could modify for my fussy tummy’s needs. With a few rare exceptions, they were always knowledgable, honest, kind, and accommodating.
Was it all still a pain? Of course. But so is life with chronic illness. Disney goes the extra mile and a half to make everything as accommodating as possible for people like me. It was an enormous relief to have so many extra considerations taken care of that, in most other vacations, would amount to logistical headaches or an inability to take part in certain activities. For example, I don’t expect anyone waiting with a ramp for me on my upcoming trip to Scotland.
Or, for that matter, on my last trip to Universal.
Don’t get me wrong…nothing has made me fangirl harder than Diagon Alley.
And Universal is still better with accessibility than, say, a European city. But they weren’t nearly as adept at accommodating disabilities as Disney. Ramps were harder to find, cast members had to call supervisors to ask accessibility questions, and the “quaint London shops” and cobblestone streets were extremely difficult to maneuver with a wheelchair. I didn’t really get to explore a lot of shops because it was just too hard to get around. I realize Rowling was insistent on having the shops small enough to feel “authentically British”…but a little consideration for how this would affect those on wheels would have been nice.
Most aggravating of all, almost every Universal queue, including the recently built ones, had a set of stairs that made an elevator necessary. This meant waiting for one small elevator behind a line of other wheelies, which significantly extended every wait time. I also encountered problems with my feeding tube, including one time when I found out as I was about to board the (amazing) new Harry Potter ride, that I had to unhook from my feeding tube in order to ride. I didn’t eat at any restaurants, so it was hard to say if they were as accommodating in the dietary category, but their quick service foods were notably less varied.
I have always loved Disney’s dedication to the Make a Wish Foundation, but until recently I had never fully appreciated just how seriously they take their accessibility access. It takes a huge burden off my shoulders so I can simply enjoy my vacation. So thanks, my beloved Disney, for having our disabled backs.