Jemelene Wilson
moms@nrtoday.com

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March 12, 2014
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Traveling to Disney Parks with special needs children | Moms

Spend 10 minutes with me and you'll most likely find out, I'm one of those people. The kind that spends quite a bit of time dreaming and planning for their family vacation.

Not just any vacation. No, this woman loves a Disney vacation.

It hasn't always been on the top of the list, but for the past 10 years our family has found rest and has become energized by our time spent at “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

In 2004, we were granted a trip for our youngest daughter to visit Disneyland as part of a family reunion in Southern California.

After years of medical procedures, invasive tests, hospital stays and ongoing therapy, it was time to take a break the whole family could love.

We walked away from that week with a whole new perspective.

People have teased me for my love of the Magic Kingdom. Maybe it's because they don't “get it.” Those who have kiddos who don't fit in to the rest of the world understand the attraction. Our children have few places where they can leave their chairs to join in with the rest of their peers.

There aren't a lot of places that accommodate those with sensory issues or even food allergies like Disney does.

When we approach the tunnel on each visit, we read the sign that says: “Here you leave Today and enter the World of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy.”

You see, sometimes, all of us need to take a step out of reality for a few days to enjoy our imaginations. To take a vacation from medical visits and pediatric walkers.

Our reality still follows, but we get to feel the sweetness of laughing side-by-side with those around us.

Last Fall, social media outlets blew up with the news that Disney was no longer going to offer a Guest Assistance Card (GAC).

Understandably, parents in our camp panicked at the thought of losing one of the very few places their family could count on to get away from it all.

With a bit of research I found that they were not scrapping their services, but changing them around in order to dissuade abuse that had been taking place.

Several unscrupulous individuals had been renting themselves out to families in order to skip the lines. To remedy the issue, something had to be done.

The new program, the Disabilities Access Service (DAS) has quite a bit behind it, as well as input from groups in the special needs community.

As I looked into it, I had a few of my own concerns. As my daughter's condition has changed throughout the years, we began receiving a “green light” stamp on our pass. It just meant that where ever possible, our party of six or less would be taken to the front of the line.

This allowed us to navigate the parks between g-tube feedings, and moments where Allison was over stimulated we could give her a rest without feeling like we were wasting precious time.

What it did was help us make the best of her better moments.

We never saw it as getting on more attractions than other guests, but enjoying the same amount at a different pace.

What many don't seem to realize, even before we used any passes, the wheelchair lines aren't always the short route. In fact, in the afternoon, The Pirates of the Caribbean takes longer for wheelchair users than it does the regular queue. It is often backed up into New Orleans square. To this day, that is the first attraction we visit in the morning when we arrive so we can avoid the line.

Planning is the key. Knowing how to express your needs and anticipate the unexpected will be your best tool for a relaxing vacation.

This past February, our family took a much-needed time off.

We were able to see first hand how the new system works. It has only been in place since October so all the bugs aren't worked out yet, but in true Disney fashion, they are well on their way to having a plan in place that I believe will be better than before.

Our daughter was able to enjoy herself while the rest of us came back physically tired, but with a feeling of overall refreshment.

Under the old plan, you often walked right on or at the very least stood in a shorter line. With the new plan, you choose where you might go next and you are given a time to return.

Although you are waiting, you are no longer waiting in a crowded space.

Still, it goes case by case.

My daughter's needs were considered and accommodations were made in all but a couple of cases. Even then, it was a matter of communication and planning.

Throughout the next few weeks, I'll chronicle our trip and lay out my best tips for all families to enjoy a visit to Disney Parks.

I'll lead you step by step through the process of the DAS.

We'll discuss comfort issues as well as tending to special physical needs.

I'll also share my philosophy on “saving money” on food, as well as tending to dietary issues.

I help friends plan whenever they'll allow me. I find that it helps me to live vicariously through them and gives me an excuse to dream even more.

“Here you leave Today and enter the World of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy.”


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The News-Review Updated Mar 20, 2014 12:56PM Published Mar 20, 2014 01:10PM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.