Walt Disney World has always been special to me; from a very young age, it has been synonymous (as I’m sure it is for many people) with wonderful and endearing experiences and memories with friends and loved ones. For me, I associate the park and Disney in general, with special times spent with my sister and grandparents.
So on a recent trip to Florida it was very important to me, to visit Walt Disney World after having not been in quite some time. I’d never visited the park totally on my own, (always having gone with people whom were sighted) and was actually quite excited to see what accommodations Disney might offer for one with a visual impairment such as mine. Disney has always represented creative, forward-thinking ingenuity to me, so I was truly looking forward to the elegant way this issue might be addressed.
Not a little bit sentimental, I was ready for an exciting and fun day in this very special place. I arrived at the Ticket and Transportation Center, and was pleasantly greeted by a very nice agent whom, after getting me my ticket, also boarded the monorail to escort me to Guest Relations, in the Magic Kingdom. He was extremely upbeat, interesting, and just great to talk with, and we had a really enjoyable ride, chatting enthusiastically along the way.
Though some things in the park had obviously changed in my absence, I felt the familiar magic and electricity of the happy crowds moving this way and that, off to their next destination or attraction in this fantastical city unto itself.
We arrived at Guest Relations, in the town hall building on Main Street, and here, unfortunately, was where the Disney Magic all but completely broke down. while everyone was certainly nice enough, there were, surprisingly, no provisions for one whom is blind, such as myself, to receive assistance in getting around the park in a meaningful way.
They mentioned that there were headphones that would tell one about nearby attractions which I’m sure is a very informative amenity, but it (not surprisingly) would unfortunately not direct a visitor to such attractions or throughout the park as a GPS might guide one in traveling unfamiliar city streets, which is exactly what I’d need such a device to be able to do, if it were to be helpful to me, in this hustling bustling community that is Disney World.
The next option which was mentioned was a Braille map. Upon examination though, while attractions and such were labeled and briefly described, the routes to get to them were not visible. I.E. the tactile or Braille label for an attraction might be sitting in a sea of ‘blank’ smooth space with no tactile representation of the path to get to and from it. So once again, this didn’t help me in my quest to learn or navigate the park, as I couldn’t really even try to memorize a rough plan or route in hopes of moving between the park’s various landmarks and such.
Lastly, the idea of hiring a VIP Tour was offered. this would allow me to be escorted anywhere in the park, and furthermore would offer me a tour guide who was knowledgeable on all of the Disney attractions and such, and who could also describe these as well as offer interesting facts and insights into Walt Disney World’s many intriguing and magical facets.
At last! -Here, not only was the alternative I’d been looking for, but considerably more! -I wondered why it had taken us so long to figure this one out. Expectantly, I asked for more info on this terrific opportunity.
My heart then sank, one last time, as, Unfortunately, not only would I need to reserve the tour in advance, which would (in this case) involve me leaving and returning the next day) but I’d also need to book a six hour minimum tour at $315.00 per hour. To save you the calculation, this comes out to $1890.00. Unfortunately for me at the time, (while not unreachable) this would have placed a large dent in my budget for the trip, so, very much saddened, I decided, reluctantly, to opt out.
This was unbelievable. Of all places, I stood here feeling now, inexplicably somehow invalidated and completely out of options. -Why this simple act of getting from point A to point B, could be such a tremendous, absurd, insurmountable difficulty in this place of bright dreams and expansive, inclusive futures, was truly beyond me. I wasn’t asking to be waited on, simply for some minimal assistance so that I could move throughout this winding park.
Am I, with my simple need and request, really that much of an outsider? -Should I be? -I certainly never consider myself such, but there in that office on Main Street USA, amid a teaming sea of people, I felt very much alone and very much ‘separate.’
So at this point, there was nothing left. There were no options for me to obtain the simple assistance I needed to traverse the park like everyone else. Outside, the excited crowds roamed hither and thither as before, happily creating their next wonderful memories to be warmly kept. -Could only one person in this small office in the greatest park on the planet simply take time to walk with me?
At this point, having no other suggestions, the Disney folks asked me if I’d like to remain in the park, or get a refund on my ticket, So, having absolutely no concept of how I’d possibly navigate such a huge, loosely-structured area, full of crowds, with an extremely unfamiliar and complex layout, (after some consideration) I opted to return my ticket for a refund, which I was promptly given. I’d only just arrived here, excited, and happily expectant, and now, all that seemed left was to plan my trip quietly back to my hotel…
There was a particular souvenir I wanted while I was at Disney, so I asked one of the women who’d been assisting me if she wouldn’t mind taking me to get it, before I ultimately left the park. After asking her manager for his approval, she graciously agreed and we set off in search of Disney memorabilia goodness! -At least there’d be one bright spot today.
As we walked along our way, out in the beautiful Florida sunshine now, easily gliding through the Magic Kingdom, I could tell that this person really did enjoy offering me some assistance to simply go where I needed to and I offered to tip her. (not surprisingly though) She couldn’t accept such, and the best way to thank her, she said, was for me to enjoy my day. Here was where everything changed.
When we arrived at the shop we were looking for, it began to dawn on me simply. I was here now. If I left the park like this today, feeling as crestfallen as I did, not only would my day be ruined, but, as well, the wonderful memories shared with my grandparents and my sister would be tainted by this experience. The loss the child part of me would feel would be awful. I simply could, and would, not allow this to happen. I would not see this day end tearfully. This day would be a happy one. There would be no other way of it. So, with relief and joy in my heart, I simply would not allow anything else!
The fear and confusion of navigating alone, such a huge and complex place, with no real sense of its layout, was immense. Overwhelmed, I had absolutely no clue how I’d even approach this. However, I just knew I needed to do it. It needed to happen and I was here now, so this was it. I would stay in the park, and I would enjoy my day!… I would do what I came here to do; -enjoy the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World with thoughts and memories of time spent happily with my loved ones! This day would be a happy one!
I purchased my souvenirs, We walked back to the town hall where I again purchased my ticket. My temporary companion showed me to a locker for my purse and newly-purchased items etc, and then pointed me off in the direction of Tomorrow Land. I thanked her, we said goodbye and I was off on my own, amid a torrent of people, heading up Main Street USA.
As I made my way, I thought ‘I have absolutely no idea how this is going to work at all.’ ‘I have no idea how I’ll manage this.’ -None of it mattered though. I simply needed to do this and did the best I could as I went. this was real! -And this was what I was here for, and I was excited!…
Only a few minutes later, a Disney cast member / photographer stopped me. she asked if i’d like some assistance, and said she thought that Guest Relations might offer some way I could have help around the park. I related my story, and she was shocked, saying that they used to offer this. We talked for a minute,and she said she’d be delighted to go with me to the attraction I was off to. I accepted her gracious offer, and told her once there, I’d be fine and would then simply ask someone to basically point me in the direction of my next destination.
to my surprise though, once we arrived, another cast member took me through the fast pass line for the ride, and then waited with me until yet another cast member (who could leave Tomorrow Land and cross into another area of the park) came to assist me to where I was off to next. From here on, throughout the day, cast members and guests alike, either got me close to attractions, directly on them, or invited me to ride with them. the Disney Magic was truly alive and well! One family even invited me to have dinner with them.
I met all sorts of people that day, and shared wonderful conversations, thrills and fun! The heart of Disney was strong and lively. so can the brain catch up? -I sure believe it can!
Disney represents inclusion. Disney represents innovation. -and Disney represents creativity. Is there a creative, innovative solution for this issue which would foster inclusion? -Yes, but it doesn’t need to be creative or innovative; it’s amazingly simple and obvious.
Every Disney cast member I met that day was truly and simply delighted to do what they did. It wasn’t a chore for them to go with me as we moved through the park. I never asked to be waited on; I only asked for the assistance I really needed so I could get to and from attractions and restaurants and such. If I was confused, I asked for help. If I was clear on an area, I moved about it on my own. If there were no cast members to be found, I asked a fellow park guest for assistance as I might in a normal day to day situation if I needed directions somewhere. It all worked out flawlessly in the end.
So how difficult would it be to have one cast member paid for such a thing?… How many blind people on their own, visit Walt Disney World a year? I don’t have an answer for this, but it’s my thought that this number would be extremely low. -One or perhaps two?… Would there be more blind people going solo if the option were available to them? -Even if one blind person a day for an entire year, visited the park, so that they’d need assistance navigating, one Disney cast member could fulfill this need splendidly. In the grand scheme of things, this seems a small accommodation. Surely employing a mere one person, or even two people for such assistance, out of a workforce of thousands is not only doable but quite simple and easy, I’d posit.
Make no mistake; despite the fact that I was able to have a truly terrific experience without such a service in place, was absolutely not what any sighted person would call easy by any means. I’m not playing the ‘blind’ card here; not tugging at anyone’s sympathies, but it must be said that this was not an experience for the faint of heart; -and there are plenty of people for whom this experience might not be something they feel they can handle.
My mobility skills are thankfully exceptional and I’m a very outgoing person. I approach things in an upbeat and positive manner. -Even with my positive focus, this was very upsetting for me in the beginning, and quite nerve-racking as I really did have no clue as to how I would accomplish this, or if it would even really work at all.
Even as the day went on and I found myself making my way around the park, I always needed to maintain awareness as much as possible, and be able to enjoy myself at a high degree of uncertainty as it were. I always made the move, myself, to travel somewhere, and never took help or guidance for granted. In a large, crowded, confusing place, this is not always super relaxing, as you might guess.
Every person I’ve spoken to about this (be they sighted or blind) also shares reservations of such an experience on one’s own. Should a trip to an amusement park feel like this for someone? -One whom is sighted would never go to a park if they felt this way about approaching it. this just shouldn’t be the nature of the experience. -Especially not at a Disney park. Tension or nervousness should be the last thing on one’s mind as they disembark from the monorail and enter the most magical place on Earth, yes?…
I, with the amazing help of many other people that day,, made my experience what it was. We all made it one to remember. -And I thank them dearly for it. With the simple help of people I didn’t even know, I had a truly magical day! -One which I’ll treasure, and would do again in a heartbeat.
Now it’s time to think of other visually impaired potential Disney visitors. For me, this turned out to be wonderful, I could handle it. There are those whom may not be able to though. They shouldn’t need to be fearful about doing something as simple as going to an amusement park and enjoying themselves.
Sure, many times people will go with friends or family, and that’s terrific. the option should be there though, for people whom might just want to go to such a place by themselves on the spur of the moment. It shouldn’t need to be scary, it should be fun! Scary should be left to thrill rides or the Haunted Mansion, yes? that’s where it belongs, wouldn’t you say?…
Is Disney in the dark? I sure don’t think so. the accommodations that are currently offered for the blind are simply not enough though. They are most definitely a very welcome and thankful start but I do hope that a day at Disney can be even brighter for all its excited, expectant visitors, regardless of ability or ‘disability’ though. -And certainly, if anyone’s day can be made brighter or happier, disney should be able to do it!…