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Special needs are Universal: Guest’s visit ruined by poor planning – how it could have easily been prevented


Welcome to the next edition of our Special Needs Are Universal column, featuring questions and answers to help those with disabilities plan their day at Orlando’s theme parks. Our ultimate goal is to give families the confidence to enjoy all there is to do across this amazing vacation destination!

Special needs are Universal.
Special needs are Universal.

In today’s post, I’m going to take our discussion in a slightly different direction. Instead of answering a specific question from a reader, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss a recent news story.

A few days ago, WESH-2 Orlando aired a story about a man who, while visiting Universal Orlando by himself, rented a scooter but was denied access to using the lines while riding it. Since he maintained that he couldn’t transfer to a manual wheelchair (due to lack of upper-body strength), he requested his admission be refunded. He was offered a discount, but that not being what he wanted, he reached out to WESH. After the TV station made a call to Universal, his money was returned.


The necessity & benefit of planning ahead

After viewing the report, I realized what I have been saying all along is the best information that can be given to anyone living with a disability: plan ahead. It doesn’t sound like “Guy” (what I’m calling him for this article) researched what was available online for the disabled or went to Guest Services to ask what help could be made available for him, especially because he was solo. It is not Universal’s fault he didn’t check the rules for disabled riders before he bought his ticket.

Being disabled takes the spontaneity out of life; it’s a reality that there are many activities we just can’t take for granted. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helps level the playing field, it isn’t always fair. I’m sure attorneys go to great lengths to ensure every established rule meets current laws, and then it’s up to us to ensure we’ve reviewed whether or not our conditions will allow us to abide by these rules. That must be done before you go to the park, not after you’ve gone through the turnstiles. That’s really why I’m writing Special Needs Are Universal.


The first mistake

And it sounds like this is where Guy made his first mistake. He should have, at the very least, started checking for disability information by visiting The Universal logo for “disabled” is at the bottom of the page and will link to the resort’s disabled information. Of course, he could have also started his search for necessary information on Orlando Informer, too. In addition, Universal Guest Services can also be reached by phone at (407) 224-4233 (it’s a good idea to have a list of questions ready before you call).

Next, download and read the Universal Orlando Rider’s Guide (PDF file). I have mentioned this in almost every article I have written because I think it’s that important. (Don’t attempt to print this – it’s a large PDF file, and it’s free at the park.) If Guy had read this, he would have realized that he must transfer from his scooter to a manual wheelchair before entering the ride queues. Park rules, height requirements, medical warnings, and all ride information are in this document – valuable information for all guests.

The WESH report has Guy stating that he was at Universal Studios Florida in 2012, and that he was allowed to enter the lines on his scooter. Universal officials said if that happened, it would have been a “momentary exception in an effort to assist him.” And as noted in the Rider’s Guide, there are no shows and attractions that permit ECVs.

Special needs are Universal.
Special needs are Universal.

This rule isn’t new.

Here it is in a June 2009 Adventure Guide I have from Islands of Adventure, which, actually, is still on current guide maps:

Special needs are Universal.
Special needs are Universal.


How you work with Universal’s Team Members matters

Guy’s second mistake was that he probably didn’t make Guest Services his first stop once at the park, whether or not an Attraction Assistance Pass was needed. Both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure have Guest Services offices located to the right of the ticket turnstiles after you have entered.

(By the way, there are outside windows for Guest Services before you even enter. Please know that you can’t get an Attraction Assistance Pass there, but if you haven’t purchased your ticket and you haven’t done your research beforehand, you can and should ask questions there before you do anything else.)

If I were by myself and knew the regulations for scooters, I would have asked to see if assistance was available before entering the park. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to propel himself in a regular wheelchair, Guy could have asked for an assisted pass and, perhaps, whether a TM might be available to help him with the chair through the Express Pass lines or another alternative entrance. The Rider’s Guide also suggests having a companion, but that’s for if you need to be lifted from your chair, and Team Members are not trained to perform that duty. However, I’ve seen TMs push chairs for others on several occasions.

I am not saying that this can be expected from Universal Team Members – only that, if you really want to experience the thrill of the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure rides, how you work with the Team matters. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what the interaction was between Guy and TMs. They’ve helped me when I’ve struggled with pushing my daughter up ramps. I didn’t even have to ask – they volunteered their help. But I also wasn’t demanding it.

In fact, my daughter and I have been shown to unseen entrances on occasion by TMs, and perhaps they would have done the same for Guy.

Special needs are Universal.
The hidden entrance to Terminator 2 is behind these doors.
Special needs are Universal.
Behind these trees is the child swap entrance to ET.


If you have uncertainties

If you doubt you or your family member’s ability to ride – say, they have a cast or brace, prosthetics, missing limb, or other severe disability – it is imperative to ask to be evaluated by a member of the ADA supervisor’s staff, which can be done at the Guest Services offices. Most of these conditions are also mentioned in the Rider’s Guide. After a series of accidents in different theme parks several years ago, Universal required Team Members to make sure certain requirements were met before allowing some people to ride.

This happened with our daughter, and the TM wasn’t willing to believe that she had already been on this particular ride at least 12 times since it had opened in 2010, so we immediately went to Guest Services. We asked to speak to the ADA supervisor, but not being on park property, a member of his staff was able to reach him on the phone. After a quick evaluation by a member of his staff, who was kind and not threatening because she had the training to deal with the cognitively disabled, we were issued a letter stating which rides our daughter could ride, which was everything.

Now you know why I recommend being evaluated!


Remember: the rules are there for your safety, and Guy needed to understand that. The signs were there several times – he just didn’t stop to read them. Don’t assume that your particular problem will be addressed without first seeking information and assistance. Save yourself the disappointment of being told you can’t ride by doing your research before you go and verifying that information in Guest Services.

Many of our problems existed before websites and free long-distance phone calls, and we had to learn the hard way. But that was before. Nowadays, sites like Orlando Informer are available to anyone with an internet connection – so we can all save time and money, and plan the best vacations possible to Universal Orlando Resort.

As I bring this article to an end, I want to thank our readers so much for your support! I’ve been getting lots of emails and letters of thanks, and I appreciate every one – I am happy that I can help.

If you have a question that hasn’t been addressed in one of my blogs, please do not hesitate to post on the OI Forums. And, as always, for new readers, don’t forget to review the Attraction Assistance & Guest Assistance Pass page in the OI Universal Center.


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!

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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March 18, 2014 2:01 pm

Along a similar line, we’ve got several questions recently about how to best maneuver wheelchairs throughout the parks at Universal Orlando. Please know that we’ll be addressing this topic in our next SNAU blog post!

Sarah Hughes
Sarah Hughes
March 18, 2014 2:09 pm

Thanks for such an informative post!

Ann Ashenfelder Littell
Ann Ashenfelder Littell
March 18, 2014 2:09 pm

When I visited Universal last March, I was in an ECV and another family member was in a manual wheelchair. I also have 2 children with special needs.
So, I DID MY HOMEWORK before the trip. I knew exactly what to expect. I knew how to get an assistance pass for the places we would need it. We opted to stay onsite to get the Express Passes. I knew that I would need to transfer to a manual wheelchair to go through the lines.
I was prepared for all of that, and the whole family had an amazing time.

Stina Moran
Stina Moran
March 18, 2014 2:12 pm

I have witnessed able bodied people rent scooters so they don’t have to walk through the parks. So I don’t think that is a good idea.

Kelly Louise Hill
Kelly Louise Hill
March 18, 2014 2:14 pm

I’ve been to universal many times, I have no fingers & been on all the rides, my last visit in oct last year I was denied all access to rides I been on many times before & was told this was due to recent health & safety changes. I hadn’t read the to see if they had made any changes so I guess that was my fault but never the less this was very disappointing to be turned away from all the rides I have been on many many times & paid full price for a ticket only to experience… Read more »

John Sebastian La Valle
John Sebastian La Valle
March 18, 2014 2:18 pm

Kelly, those who let you on before didn’t do their jobs there were no changes. They shouldn’t had let you on. Here’s an example of why you just be able to fully grip the ride’s safety mechanism:

John Sebastian La Valle
John Sebastian La Valle
March 18, 2014 2:21 pm

I wish the TMs had explained things to you better and that they also made attempts to get you properly accommodated on rides that were safe for you. But as with any job, not everybody follows through on procedures or what could be considered common sense/decency

Kelly Louise Hill
Kelly Louise Hill
March 18, 2014 2:43 pm

Thanks John, I’ve been going to universal for over a period of 16yrs & never had any issues so was just extremely disappointed! Thanks again for the info 🙂

Elizabeth Hargett
Elizabeth Hargett
March 18, 2014 3:02 pm

I remember a trip we took about 15 years ago we took with my disabled mother. We had a been given a hard time with our large group which we said could be accommodated and ended up fighting for about 2k worth of tickets (which we won and why we love American Express). In retrospect the reason the whole incident started was because about 10 ride operators weren’t doing their job and then it blew up in the wrong persons face. It’s crucial to train employees properly that’s such bad PR. And I feel for families who travel with a… Read more »

March 18, 2014 5:03 pm

Please don’t assume that the person on that scooter is able bodied.  They may have a condition where walking and standing causes extreme pain or have a heart or breathing problem.  Many people visit Universal but don’t ride – they go for the shows and entertainment.  This is a mistake that so many people make without knowing the whole story.

Chris Lodge
Chris Lodge
March 22, 2014 5:17 pm

Very good article

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