Special needs are Universal: Visiting Universal Orlando & Walt Disney World with hidden disabilities

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This is our fourth Special Needs Are Universal article. The purpose of this OI Blog series is to answer your theme park disability questions and give families the confidence to enjoy all of Orlando!

Special Needs are Universal.
Special Needs are Universal.

Based on two current questions, unseen disabilities seem to cause many guests anxiety about how parks will view their requests for assistance passes, i.e. passes that grant accelerated access to attractions and rides.

Question 1 comes from Fernando in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

I go to Orlando every year; love those parks but I always have the same problem, pain in my back because of the lines. I have a back problem (scoliosis) and a metal piece in my chest due to a bone reconstruction; you can only see it on X-ray. This problem doesn´t restrict me of going to any attraction, but I can’t stand in line for long, because by the end of the day it feels like my back is on fire! It’s terrible. Does that qualify me for a special needs pass? I could ask my doctor for a prescription, but would they accept a prescription from a Brazilian doctor written in Portuguese?

Second question, from Peta:

Both of my boys have Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning Autism). I would like to know if you think the line assistance pass would be a good idea for our family or if the lines will be ok as it is not a busy time in either Disney or Universal. I’m not really sure how my boys will go as they have never been in huge crowds because we live in rural Australia. Any ideas you might have to get us through in one piece would be greatly appreciated.

Since both of these questions are similar, I will answer them at the same time, addressing other concerns as necessary. By the way, if you have read some of my other articles, you’ll see that I can relate to someone who has little control over behaviors, my daughter has also has scoliosis and I have two muscle diseases (yep – that fire-feeling is incredibly painful).

For both of you, I think asking for the Assistance Passes at both Universal Orlando Resort and Disney World would be a great idea. Spring Break is here in Florida, so the lines are going to start getting pretty long. Universal’s pass is good at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, while Disney’s is good at all four of their parks Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Usually the parks will ask how many days you will be spending with them and date the passes accordingly.

To do more research, check out our information on disability passes in the OI Universal Center: Universal’s Attraction Assistance & Guest Assistance Passes. Disney’s Guest Assistance Card works similarly to Universal’s but does not use the “return time” application. It is marked with different stamps, which tell the cast members which entrances you may use.

Before you leave home, have your physician write a prescription or note for you to carry to Guest Services, even if it is written in Portuguese.  Since both parks have many visitors from all over the world, it’s a good bet they have someone who can read the prescription. Even though desk personnel may not even look at it, it’s a way of letting them know someone in your party needs special assistance, and that your doctor agrees accommodations are necessary. It doesn’t even have to describe the disability, only that accelerated entrance due to disabilities is needed. It’s up to you if you want to tell the attendants the exact medical conditions, if you feel it will help. Also, make sure your entire party is with you at the desk. Assistance passes only allow up to six people in the party.

It will help a lot if you become familiar with the rides within each park before you go. You can find Universal Orlando’s ride requirements and information in Universal Orlando Resort’s Rider’s Guide. Disney’s ride info can be found on each park’s page: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. If it’s not busy and the standby lines are less than 15-20 minutes, I’d say to try using those lines – allow the boys to experience the entire queues as some are quite entertaining. Some have interactive displays while others contain items or sets from the movies after which they are named.

Peta, the boys may surprise you and be totally absorbed in the atmosphere. You know your children better than anyone else and recognize their triggers, so you need to base your decision on what they are able to tolerate. If you download all the parks’ maps ahead of time, you can see that they all have park-like areas that usually are very quiet. Check out Universal’s maps, or click on the Disney links above to navigate to theirs. You can also find some great play areas to blow off a little steam! Visiting Universal Studios Florida with kids – complete guide would be a good place to start for places at Universal Orlando. Also please check out www.autismattheparks.com, written by one of our Orlando Informer contributors, Maureen. Her son is Autistic, and she has many tools for having a great day at the parks.

As for worrying about what people will say to you in line, don’t. Your party will be using the Express Pass (Universal)/Fast Pass (Disney) lines, same as people who have obtained those passes or those using their hotel key cards or passes issued by hotels. It’s no one’s business but yours.  Remember, Assistance Passes are not front-of-the-line passes, and you will not be passing those already in line. As much as the “regular” crowd may gripe about someone having a “golden ticket” — those are the same people who would also be the first to complain if a so-called “normal” child would start screaming or crying next to them. Although I wear our pass in a plastic pocket on a lanyard, you might consider keeping it out of sight so others do not see it and only show it when necessary. But seriously, I wouldn’t worry about it as no one has ever said a word to me.

Fernando and Peta, I hope I have been able to help you with your planning. All I want is for those with disabilities to understand that they can also have the best time of their lives in Orlando’s theme parks. If you need help in the parks, just ask for it. I have found team and cast members to be very interested in helping you have a wonderful time and many go out of their way to assist you and your family with anything you wish.  As Universal Orlando Resort ads say, “Vacation like you mean it!”  Mean it and have a wonderful time!

 

Hidden disabilities

As an aside, it really bothers me that Peta had to voice what so many people with hidden disabilities fear: being chastised for using an Assisted Pass by another park guest when that guest has no idea what life is like for those of us with disabled family members. My favorite word is Karma. You never know what your life will be like tomorrow, let alone a year from now. We don’t expect the birth of a child to throw us into a tail spin, especially after a perfectly normal pregnancy, but it does. As a society, we have got to stop judging others by how they look, or don’t look, as to whether someone deserves accommodations when visiting certain public and private institutions. It’s just plain wrong.

 

DISCLAIMER: Please be advised that neither the author of this post nor any of us here at OrlandoInformer.com is an official representative of any theme park in Orlando. While we work diligently to provide you with the very best advice from our collective expertise and experience, it is still your responsibility to verify your plans with each theme park.

View all of our Special Needs Are Universal posts


Do you have a Special Needs Are Universal question for Debi? She is available to assist your family in the SNAU section of the OI Forums. Registration is free, and once you have an account, we invite you to join the conversation or ask a new question.


 

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