Disney is seen as being very wholesome and relatively inclusive so when I ended up in a wheelchair and without cancellation insurance coverage, it was a decision to either forfeit thousands or suffer through. After speaking with Disney and doing some research I felt comfortable enough to go. With the trip completed, here are the top ten things I wish I knew before heading to Disney World with my wheelchair.
#1 The grounds in the parks are themed so if you are in a manual chair, it can be extremely bumpy, steep, and hard to push/roll the wheels yourself.
Disney and a few local companies rent electric wheelchairs by the day. If you rent from Disney you can only use the wheelchairs when in the park that you rent it at, as soon as you leave the park they take them back so if you plan to go to a different park, pop out for lunch, or even just need to use it on transit to get to your hotel you won’t be able to. You may not need it outside of the parks, and if you are park hopping, the daily fee covers all the parks so you do not need to pay again at the next park.
If you need an electric or manual chair for your entire stay and are not bringing one then check out ScooterBug as they are a Disney partner so they will have more access to Disney places like hotels than other rental companies. Or, if you are like us and either did not know this service exists or cannot afford it, you can still make your manual chair work but just make sure to include a lot more downtime/breaks in your day.
Hint: the parks are massive! Animal Kingdom for example is 0.78 sq. mi. / 2 sq. km.
#2 Just because you are in a wheelchair, does not mean you qualify for the Disability Access Service – DAS Pass.
To receive a DAS Pass you have to be able to prove that you cannot wait in line. The catch however is that you have to wait in line at guest services to prove you cannot wait in a line. If you are anything like me, this makes things extremely painful and swollen so if you do end up in this situation, the medical rooms are usually 1/2 – 1 city block away from Guest Services and they can provide things like ice and pain relievers. Luckily due to COVID, you can now arrange an online viewing with a Cast Member before you arrive in the parks.
#3 You must book an ADA-compliant room.
When you are making your booking, you will need to book a room with an ADA designation (ex. ADA Garden View). Not every hotel has ADA rooms or even elevators so you may need to look at multiple resorts to find them. On top of that, the resorts that do have them are limited to just a few rooms so they may sell out during the high season. In this case, you can book a regular room, and call to have a request for ADA added or at least items that you need (ex. shower chair, bed rails, etc). The downside is that not every resort carries these additional items and the ones that do, these items are first come first serve, and not guaranteed.
When we stayed at the New Orleans French Quarter, we had booked a standard room and as our final deposit was paid, we could not change it to an ADA room so we called Disney. The agent that helped us put the note on file said the items would be in our room upon arrival but they were not and the Front Desk said that they did not carry the items I requested – a shower chair and grab bar if a roll-in shower is not available.
#4 If you are going to take the buses, avoid peak times.
During peak times (park open, after fireworks, park close) the bus lines are huge and the drivers pack everyone in like sardines. Unfortunately in a wheelchair, your face is butts and backpack level so you will get smacked in the face with both. Some people will even try to sit/rest things on your shoulders and the chair. If you tell them to watch it, they will either be apologetic but have no place to move or yell at you for having no space to move. There is also a huge chance that you won’t make it onto the bus as the bus stops have designated spots for wheelchairs to wait and sometimes the drivers “will not” see you sitting there.
With peak times there are also going to be a lot of other people in chairs or with strollers and the buses usually have two spots where the seats fold up to make space. Also, just because you are first in line in the wheelchair holding area, it does not mean that you get on the bus. The hierarchy for these two spots seems to be: elderly people in a manual wheelchair, elderly people in an electric wheelchair, obese people in an electric wheelchair, other people in an electric or manual wheelchair, and then strollers.
Bonus: another thing to note is that not all drivers know how to properly connect the chair to the bus restraints so make sure that you know how to put on your breaks!
#5 Not sure on something? Just ask!
If you are unsure of anything, ask Disney’s Disability Services at (407) 560-2547 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
#6 Taking a coach from the airport to Disney World may not be an option.
We took Mears Connect and I had to transfer from my chair, climb a few stairs, and sit in their seats. If you cannot do this then you will want to look into Uber, Lyft / Minnie Van’s, taxi, or other forms of private transfer.
#7 You will be able to find rides you can ride!
There are quite a few rides where you can stay in your chair and others that you can transfer easily but do not expect to be able to do all the rides. Do the research (I list a lot of them in my guide) to prevent getting your hopes crushed.
If you need a break from the rides or maybe some of your party is going on a ride you cannot then try Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, Pirates Adventure in Magic Kingdom, or Wilderness Explorers in Animal Kingdom. All are free and self-paced.
#8 Hunt out the newer park sections for the better bathrooms.
If you are needing to use the restroom while in the park, every bathroom has a disabled stall but these can be difficult to turn around in or they will be used by people that have multiple children with them. However, the newer buildings have “companion assisted bathrooms” which are usually found between the Men’s & Women’s bathrooms in the new buildings in the various parks. These make a huge difference as there is a lot more space to move around in, grab bars, lower sinks, and toilets, plus they are a great break from the swarm of people outside.
#9 If you are driving, bring your valid parking permit.
These permits will allow you to park in the accessible parking locations found at the resorts and the theme parks (you will still have to pay for parking).
#10 Breathe and have fun!
Yes, things will go wrong and might be stressful but you made it to Disney World! As hard as it may be, roll with the punches, and you’ll still end up having an amazing trip.
Whether you are headed to Disney World in a wheelchair or not, make sure to check out my guide for Disney World in 2022 to make sure that you make the most of your trip during the 50th Anniversary celebrations & COVID.
Author bio: Emily is a world traveler who has worked in a variety of hospitality positions before running a travel agency, teaching travel & hospitality in colleges, and then getting run over by a car. This experience forged a new path where she now passionately shares her wealth of knowledge to make travel more accessible and create travelers, not tourists via www.thefemaleabroad.com.