In this edition of Special Needs Are Universal, I would like to share a couple of the newest questions and comments I’ve received from readers. I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to write to me about your experiences at both Universal Orlando and Disney World this year.
The disabled community truly does have needs that sometimes can only be understood by others in the same boat. We can help each other find ways to enjoy what the parks have to offer in a world that wasn’t developed for wheelchairs, people who can’t use steps, or those who have cognitive issues and can’t always understand the sights and sounds around them. It is my hope, through this column, that we can share those tricks that can help us enjoy all parks just as much as the non-disabled.
Autism sensory issues & food allergies
First off, Cathleen, Duluth, GA wrote:
We are visiting Universal for the first time. We have an 8-year-old son with autism sensory issues, anxiety, etc. So I called and they said I do not need a doctor’s note (for an Attraction Assistance Pass); is it done on a by case-by-case basis? A lot of his disabilities are not visible. So, if I understand correctly, if we go to ride, 30 min or less, we go in the express lane. If more, then they give us time to come back. In the meantime, can we ride any ride that has a 30 min or less time? And what if it is so crowded that there are no 30 min or less? And will we have enough time between to get back to that reservation?
Also, he has food allergies. Is there someone I can call to see where he can eat, especially if we are doing quick service and purchase meal plan? The last thing I want to do is go all over park to find somewhere to eat.
As you can see, planning for a day in a theme park is so much more than jumping in the car and taking off. “Spontaneity” is a word we can’t use frequently, but anxiety is! Those of us with disabled family have to plan ahead and have not only one plan, but several back-ups, so we have to ask many questions to help us be as prepared as possible.
Yes, Universal does give their Attraction Assistance Passes on an individual basis. I suggest you read our article in the OI Universal Center that provides a full explanation: Attraction Assistance and Guest Assistance Passes. This should answer all your concerns in one place! As for the doctor’s note, in my experience there was a time not long ago that some with hidden disabilities, like autism and MS, were still not being recognized by parks’ personnel, and it seemed that placing the note on the counter helped them understand there really was a disability. More recently, team members seem to be much more understanding of cognitive special needs. That being said, I still carry a doctor’s note for my daughter and myself, just in case we may need it elsewhere when we travel.
The return times on the AAP are also explained in the article. Because I am disabled too, we never go far from the ride for which we are waiting. You do not need to worry about getting back to a ride at the return time you were given, as they will accept you any time after the one written.
As for allergies, there is another blog post you may wish to read: Guests with Food Allergies visiting Universal Orlando. There are phone numbers and an email address listed for where you can address your questions to Universal’s Quality Control chef, Bob Burdick.
Follow up: Annual passes & birthday wishes
A few days ago I heard back from Cathleen, whose questions above I had answered in an email when I first received them.
She wrote, in response to whether the information I provided was useful, “Yes, it did help! And we had a wonderful time, so much so that we got season passes!”
However, she explained that she had contacted Universal about restaurants and food allergies, leaving a message, but no one returned her call. I, too, have had that happen. Guest Services also could not offer them any help with food allergies. They bought the Meal Pass the first day, but found it to be a hassle; she wishes they would have known beforehand which restaurants had foods her son could eat. Cathleen wrote that, on the second day, they took their chances at the character breakfast, Circus McGurkus, Burger Digs, and Mel’s Diner, and her son was able to eat everything. However, she said they were not able to find snacks her son could eat at many of the carts. I understand this because of our daughter’s inability to chew, and with the exception of ice cream (and butterbeer), most snacks must be chewed!
The AAP passes worked well for her son, and she didn’t need a doctor’s note to receive it. The crowds were manageable during the week of Thanksgiving; they would go to the rides, with the longest wait to get return times, and then let the boys play in a play area, catch a show, or watch the parade. Cathleen said some team members wouldn’t have a pen to write a return time, and instead they allowed her to enter the Express Pass line without a reservation, sometimes even taking them to the front of the line.
Ride team members also allowed her kids to repeat some of the rides two or three times in a row – and since it was her daughter’s birthday, team members announced her daughter’s name over the loud speakers on The High In the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride! Cathleen wrote, “We were very happy with staff, and they were very accommodating.”
Cathleen’s family experience is so similar to some of the wonderful things we’ve had happen to us while at Universal. I’m happy to see that the tradition of caring still runs strong in our favorite parks, and I am looking forward to our own trip next week!
The next concerns come from Brad in Arizona:
Please send me phone numbers and E-mails for Disney. I just read your review of the new Disney disability program and am extremely troubled and nervous. I live in Arizona and have been planning our long awaited trip to Disney World (been saving for almost 10 years).
Brad has an adult son with autism. He described to me the way his son, a big guy, had meltdowns while waiting for a ride at Disneyland with the reservation system they had in place before the DAS (Disability Access System). It didn’t work for them and he has been losing sleep over his first visit to Disney World next summer. I, too, have been losing sleep over returning to the Disney parks to see the holiday decorations and Osborne Family Lights at Hollywood Studios.
More resources & Disney contact information
Thank you so much, Brad, for taking the time to share with me. Please believe me when I say, I so understand where you are right now. I’m sending the information you have requested (see below) and also would like for you to visit a OI contributor Maureen’s website, Autism At The Parks. She also has an older son with Autism and really does understand your concerns. She has also written about her recent experiences with the new Disney disabled program. We have to learn to advocate even more for what our kids need, be they young or old. I think she and I understand your anxiety a lot more than someone whose child is just a toddler or elementary age, because we’ve actually experienced meltdowns and behavior outbursts for many years. As my daughter has gotten older, some of those behaviors have been modified, others are worse. But we all know best what our family member requires to have an enjoyable day.
Here are the names and contact information for Disney World executives:
General email for Walt Disney World Guest Communication Services:
If you have specific questions about the DAS:
The snail mail addresses:
Walt Disney World Guest Communication Services
Post Office Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040
Robert A. Iger
Chief Executive Officer
The Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4873
Thomas O. Staggs
Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4873
Writing this Special Needs Are Universal column has been a wonderful experience for me! I want to wish all Orlando Informer readers a Happy Holiday and a Happy New Year! Keep those questions coming.
That’s it for today – see ya next year.
DISCLAIMER: Neither the author of this post nor any of us here at Orlando Informer 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. Thanks for your understanding!
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