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Jemelene Wilson

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March 23, 2014
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Disneyland is friendly to those with disabilities

Almost 60 years ago, Walt Disney stood at a podium at the entrance to Main Street and declared “To all who come to this happy place, welcome.”

Ask my family, every time I hear a recording of that speech I turn to mush. My breath catches and I fight all the good tears because I am always one step away from the ugly cry.

Why? Because “all” means all.

Young, old, middle-aged, those with physical limitations and everyone in between. The Cast Members (Disney’s name for employees) delight in making beautiful memories for everyone they meet. I get almost as much of a thrill seeing the joy on their faces when they meet my daughter, Allison, as I do seeing her giggle and light up.

Ten years of experience taking my child to Disneyland (once to Walt Disney World) has given me a perspective I can’t wait to share. In fact, I love it when I find others are able to take advantage of my experience.

Our recent trip was an introduction to the new Disabilities Assistance System being used in Disney to assist guests who otherwise may not be able to enjoy various attractions at their theme parks.

Although I don’t own a plaid vest, I’m happy to be your tour guide to this magical place.

(This is where I get technical while trying to keep it fun!)

Planning is our first stop to making your trip successful. It starts with being able to articulate your loved one’s needs and desires as well as limitations.

In our case, the crowded line gets frustrating for Allison. Imagine sitting in a small wheelchair in a crowd of people where you can only see backsides and thighs. It takes a very short time for a meltdown to occur, so avoiding that saves our day.

We have specific times where Allison needs to have her g-tube hooked up. This means any attraction we use at the time has to be one that accommodates her chair. We plan transfer rides around her meals.

Allison adores all of the characters. She knows exactly who Mickey, Minnie and Cinderella are, and she giggles when she meets them. Unless they are in a special venue, the lines really don’t take that long to go through and because they are in open air, she can be faced out away from the line.

We factor in heat issues, trips to the restrooms and even schedule in quieter moments.

Knowing these things makes it easier to express our needs so the Cast Members can help with accommodations.

Plan on getting to the park early to stand in line at the gate. Once you get in, depending on what park you choose to start with, go straight to City Hall at Disneyland or to the Chamber of Commerce in Disney’s California Adventure park. Your whole party will need to be with you for this process so they can count heads. They will list the number of your party on the front of the pass so you can stay together. This is an improvement from before because the previous limit was six. We had 12 in our party the first day so they included us all. (We had two wheelchairs.)

Before I get too far into the details, let me give you a tip that I employ in all my dealings with requests for my daughter. My number one rule: Always be polite. Always speak kindly. Even when you have to be firm, being abusive or demanding isn’t a right any of us have earned.

When approaching the Cast Member, go as a learner. “What can I do to make my daughter’s day at Disneyland special?” That is their goal, too. Most of them get really excited about making kiddos happy. When they can evoke a smile from a child whose life has more challenges than most, guests even seem to have a happier day.

You will be given a small booklet with a photo of the passholder on the front. Inside there are lines to fill in for the attractions you’ll want to visit. They’ll use the current wait times (how long the current line is) to determine when you should arrive. Sometimes you’ll go straight there; other times you’ll be able to fit in something else along the way.

This is where the planning comes in. There are strategically placed kiosks all over the parks where you can check in for the next attraction. It helps to have a couple of choices in mind so the Cast Member can help you plan your next moves.

In extreme cases, Cast Members will offer a small amount of “readmission passes.” They are given case by case and are meant to meet very specific needs. In our case we only used them a couple of times. Keep in mind, Allison can have severe issues without warning so qualifying for these isn’t a blessing.

The new Disabilities Assistance System isn’t perfect and one size does not fit all, but from firsthand experience I will tell you, Disney has thought this through. The park is still willing to take feedback to improve.

Here are a few more tips to help you make your trip a success:

• Familiarize yourself with the park you’ll be in that day.

• Get a map and locate First Aid. At First Aid, the bathrooms are large, private and come with cots for tending to incontinence issues. Cast members will offer you pads to change on and trash bags for your use.

• In warmer weather there are places to cool off, but we choose cooler attractions at those times. It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Enchanted Tiki Room are our top cool-down spots. At the entrance of the Tiki Room there is a Dole Whip stand to buy a treat that is so good it has a cult following. It even has wait times posted on social media sites, it is that good!

Disney has worked very hard to give every guest a wonderful experience. It even shows in their food preparation, but that’s a story for another day.

Jemelene Wilson of Roseburg is married, has two daughters and is a substitute instructional assistant for the Roseburg School District. She is one of several bloggers who contributes to Douglas County Moms on The News-Review’s website, nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Mar 23, 2014 12:04AM Published Mar 25, 2014 09:01AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.