How To Be Courteous To Guests With Wheelchairs at Disney

Disney-Guests-With-Wheelchairs

Our visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL in December was our second trip to Disney with our daughter and my family. It was also the second trip that I would be using a wheelchair to tour the parks. On our first visit, I was four weeks post-op after a laparatomy threw a wrench in our plans. My entire family was going on the trip so we couldn’t reschedule the trip but using a wheelchair allowed me to make the best of our trip and it was definitely a great decision! This visit I wasn’t post-op but because of the state of my health and pain issues, I knew that using a wheelchair again would be the best way to go. It allowed me to save the energy I would have used walking so that I could actually enjoy the time and experiences with my family.

I did learn some things though about society that reinforced my belief that there should be a mandatory class on manners before being released into the world.

These are three things that I wish people understood in order to be courteous to guests with wheelchairs at Disney (or any other public place for that matter):

1. Understand the importance of personal space.

One of my favorite experiences from our week at Disney was seeing the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios. It was breathtakingly beautiful but it was also an absolute madhouse and packed with people. I might as well of had people riding on my lap it was that crowded. One thing I don’t think people don’t understand is when you are in a wheelchair, you are sitting at half the height of the crowd. I wasn’t shoulder to shoulder with a couple hundred of your not-s0-closest friends, but I was waist high with a couple hundred not-so-closest friends. If you are the slightest bit claustrophobic, it increases ten-fold. By about halfway through the lights, I became so panicked that I had to find a way out as quickly as possible. We all value personal space but when your perspective is much lower when seated in a wheelchair, personal space becomes much more important.

2. Don’t cut someone off. 

I know everyone wants to catch the perfect picture of Cinderella’s Castle as you are walking down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. I totally get it but don’t stop short in front of someone in a wheelchair (or pushing a stroller or anyone for that matter) and get miffed when you get bumped. Its rude and stupid. Pay attention to the people around you. If you see a great shot, need to look at the map, or need to send a text, step to the side.

3. Don’t judge.

Not all illnesses are visible so just because you don’t think someone looks sick, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Disney offers a Disability Access Service card that works with guests that are not able to utilize the conventional queue for attractions. At this time, while I utilize a wheelchair to get around the parks, I do not feel like I need additional assistance so I park my chair and wait in line for attractions like other guests (we make it a point to travel in the off-season to avoid large crowds and wait times). While I feel like I am making the best personal and ethical decision at this point in my life, it has opened up the opportunity for judgement when people see me get out of my chair. Just because I can walk doesn’t mean I can walk the whole park. Just because I’m young (and have purple hair), it doesn’t mean that I am faking my illness. I may need a DAS card in the future but for now I would rather give that spot to someone else who needs it (how I feel about those who abuse the system is a totally different argument for a different day). Disabling illnesses affect people of all ages and backgrounds and are not always visible. In the US, approximately 96% of individuals living with a chronic illness have an illness that is invisible (source). Living with an illness is difficult enough without having to worry about judgmental stares from strangers.

Disney-World-Guests-With-Wheelchairs

With all my heart I believe that Disney is a magical place and plan to continue to share the magic with my family for many years to come. I just hope that one day the magic helps all of us overcome judgement, see everyone as a beautiful and wonderful creation, and treat everyone with all the respect and compassion they deserve.

Three quick tips if you will be renting a wheelchair at Disney:

1) Purchasing a multi-day (length of stay) rental pass saves money. A single day pass is $12 a day but a multi-day pass is $10 a day so I was able to get  my 6 day rental pass for the price of 5! Every little bit helps! Plus I didn’t have to wait in line the rest of the week and could just show my receipt to the cast member to receive my chair.

2) If you are going to be visiting the parks during a peak season, especially if you are using an EVC, you may want to consider renting from an outside company as park rentals can sell out quickly as they are rented on a first-come, first-serve basis. During our visit in December, it was a crowd level 3-4 (on a scale of 10) and there were days that the EVCs were sold out.

3)Bring a wheelchair pad or something to sit on! Those babies have no padding and can put a hurtin’ on your bootie by the end of the day!

Do you have a tip for visiting Disney (or any other theme park) with chronic illness or is there something that you wish others knew?

Coming Up For Air: Reclaiming Life With Chronic Illness

Reclaiming life with chronic illness
This past week may have been the hardest week of my life. I don’t think I have ever been so low before. I felt like I was in the bottom of a deep, dark pit and life with chronic illness had become suffocating. Until now.

As you know, I am in the process of fighting for disability due to my multiple chronic illnesses. In addition to filing for SSI with the help of an attorney, I have been trying to file my claim with my long term disability company as I have paid on a LTD policy for over eight years while working for my previous employer. When my doctor put me out of work, I thought that SSI would be the headache as I believed paying into a policy in case of circumstances such as this would provide necessary resources. After all, is that not the point of purchasing short term and long term disability policies? Needless to say, working with my LTD company has become a complete nightmare.

After months and months and 28485620 pages of medical records, I received a letter from the company that hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt like so much more than a denial letter. I am not sure if I have ever felt so judged, belittled, and demeaned not only as a patient but as a person. I am too young. I am too put together and look too well to be as sick as I am claiming. I am exaggerating my symptoms. I haven’t been to the hospital enough. I’ve worked this long being ill, why stop now. There were six pages of statements such as these.

Obviously feelings are probably at the bottom of the company’s priority list and avoiding making payments is at the top but the picture that they painted with the words they used of my life and the impact that multiple chronic illnesses have on every aspect of my life could not have been farther from the truth. They even tried to pin the doctors not only against me but against each other which added to the hurt. I had always bragged that I had such a great team of physicians supporting and advocating for me so it was almost a double whammy. At that moment, not only did I feel judged and disrespected by a faceless insurance company but betrayed by doctors I had grown to respect over the last ten years.

It was the hardest thing I have ever had to read. Thankfully my husband was home when I read the letter because honestly, I am not sure how I would have reacted if I was alone after reading the letter. It was like I had been stabbed in the heart and I plummeted very quickly into a very dark place.

I felt completely empty and even the smallest things took an enormous amount of effort. My anxiety was through the roof and I began to question everything.

The only thing I could cling to was the promise that God was with me through even the darkest moments. I had to believe that He was with me and had plans for me despite the hardships I was facing. Clutching Hope in one hand and the hand of my husband in the other is what got me through. He supported me in a way surpasses understanding.

So here I am a week later working to put the pieces back together. I had an appointment with my rheumatologist yesterday which helped to put me back on the path to healing (at least mentally and emotionally). He listened patiently and compassionately as I emotionally regurgitated my feelings and fears about the current my state of health and the disability process. He reminded me that no matter what the letter said that I have his complete support. He was worked with companies like these for years and they with exploit every loophole possible while pinning the blame of denying the claim on the doctors versus themselves. He had my back.

For the first time in a week, I feel like I can breathe again. I am ready to start reclaiming life with chronic illness and ready to start feeling like myself again. My true self.

I have purple dye on my hair as I type. I have plans to overhaul the blog design to get a fresh jumpstart. I am full of ideas to pour myself back into writing.

I am ready.

Fresh air feels good.

Photo credit: spinster cardigan / Foter.com / CC BY

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