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How To Be Courteous To Guests With Wheelchairs at Disney

Disney With Disability

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.

Doing Disney With A Disability

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?

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31 comments on “How To Be Courteous To Guests With Wheelchairs at Disney

  1. How To Be Courteous To Guests With Wheelchairs ... says:

    […] 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) (How to be courteous to guests with wheelchairs at #Disney (or anywhere else for that matter):…  […]

  2. jennifer says:

    Ha.. love the comment about people needing a class in manners before being released into the world; you would think by the time they reach adult age, most would have some logic here.
    My brother is permanently disabled and I hate having to tell people” but he’s completely normal other than his legs don’t work..” People judge, for sure, but I think as with anything else, there is always going to be ignorant people in the world.

    Side note– at the bottom of your page, there is a link to follow on FB, but it links to “Facebook Developers” page instead of your own!

  3. Jen says:

    So glad you were able to still enjoy your vacation. Thanks for the great reminders.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! These tips are good to know. I love Disney and I’m glad you had a great time there!

  5. Jenna Em says:

    Thanks for these great tips. I would think that many of these would full under common courtesy, but it seems not. Sorry, that others were inconsiderate to you.

    • Jamee says:

      I think most people just don’t stop to think these days. We are so focused on our to-do lists and agendas that common courtesies unfortunately go by the wayside.

  6. Jen says:

    I’ve had major surgery on both my feet and was forced to sit a lot more/use crutches for about two years while I healed. I will never forget that crowded feeling….people’s rear-ends would be right in my face and I cannot even tell you how many bags smacked me right in the head. It was insane! Almost like I was invisible. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone had to experience these things so they would hopefully learn to be more conscious of their own behavior? I think this is true of so many things in life. Wonderful post and it looks like you had so much fun 🙂

  7. Jenniemarie @ Another Housewife says:

    Stopping by from the SITS Challenge! Great tips and insight.

  8. Jennifer-Mommy Life After Ph.D. says:

    YES to mandatory manners classes!! I am glad you were able to enjoy your trip anyway!

  9. Janice says:

    Great reminders! Love your blog–so cheerful and sunny! Found you through SITS challenge. Happy Monday!

  10. Jhanis says:

    I’ve never been to Disney but have heard so much great stuff about it. I just didn’t know it could be crazy like that! Great tips you have here. It makes me wonder if courtesy is slowly disappearing in lieu of “me first” attitude. 🙁
    Dropping by from SITS. Have a great day!

  11. Jennifer B. says:

    Great tips! I am appalled by the lack of manners present nowadays. I mean, it’s just ridiculous. I’m glad you pointing them out and hopefully someone learns from them.

    • Jamee says:

      I think sometimes people just don’t think! I would have never considered the difference that having a lower perspective makes when dealing with crowds before dealing with disability so I’m hoping this post can just help others gain a little more understanding!

  12. Sometimes I wonder if people actually have common sense. Or perhaps they should go out and buy some? Sorry to hear about your concert experience. Didn’t they have a special section for people with wheelchairs? It is so hard to be in a crowd when you can’t fully protect yourself from people dancing and moving around. Glad you came out of it safely, and sorry you had to miss most of the show.

    Stopping in from SITS!

    • Jamee says:

      The Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is a walk through experience in the Streets of America area of Hollywood Studios so unfortunately they didn’t have any designated areas for those in wheelchairs or other mobility aids. It would be nice to have a designated “lane” though! It would have made the experience even more memorable!

  13. Jenn Rian says:

    I love Disney and have been visiting the “World” since a child. Every trip that I take reaffirms how wonderful and nice Disney cast members are and how selfish and rude the general public is. I’ve never had to experience rudeness and judgement at Disney from a wheelchair, but considering what I’ve experienced just walking around I couldn’t even imagine what you had to put up with 🙁 Many times at Disney it’s so crowded it’s like a zombie apocalypse and everyone is just trying to get out alive haha!

    • Jamee says:

      I have never had a bad experience with any of the cast members when visiting Disney! They have always gone above and beyond when it comes to being in a wheelchair or dealing with food allergies! Too bad the public can’t take notes on how to treat everyone with respect and courtesy! We have always made a point to travel during low-crowd times so I cannot even begin to imagine how chaotic it must be during peak season! As much as I love Disney, I think I’d rather have a lobotomy than be there the week of Christmas when crowds are at a 10! Yikes!

  14. I had a wheelchair there in November due to pregnancy issues and pain that turned out to be shingles. I was constantly trampled and people would stand waaaay closer to me than when I was standing. I felt invisible! I have a sister in law who has been paraplegic for 3 years, and she has the same complaints. It’s hard to be waist high to everyone!

    • Jamee says:

      Invisible is a great word to describe it! It was so frustrating to feel both overlooked and looked down on (literally). Definitely thankful I’m not in my wheelchair full-time and more considerate for those who are!

  15. Oh goodness – good luck! Stopping by from SITS and can’t offer any words of wisdom here but you look fully prepared 🙂

  16. Jaime says:

    This is a fantastic post and I really, really hope people read this and take it to heart and remember what you wrote! My daughter was in a wheelchair (traumatic brain injury, left side hemiplegia, etc.) for a few years and people were always so rude. Now that she walks, she’s really polite and says excuse me, pardon me, etc. and the people who scream “Respect your elders!” never give her the same respect. We were at Costco and my daughter and a lady in a wheelchair were waiting patiently in line for the samples to be ready and when they were, people reached OVER them and took the samples they were reaching for. I took photos and posted them on Costco’s facebook page, tweeted, etc. and said that they either need to stop the samples or police people and tell them they need to get in line. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

    Anyways, great post. Thanks for letting me rant Haha!

    This is amazing. I had to share it!


    • Jamee says:

      That Costco experience is sickening? Really people?! Rude doesn’t even begin to describe it! Good for you to take the issue to Costco! That kind of behavior should not be tolerated anywhere! I’m gathering more and more proof that a manners class be mandatory. Maybe I should start a petition!

  17. Jenn says:

    These are such great tips! I love your blog, it’s so inspiring for you to share your story with the world.

  18. Janelle@ Glamorous Mama says:

    I am a Annual pass-holder, and I am always helpful to those in wheelchairs. I am glad they changed their system because people were abusing it and It wasn’t fair to those who needed them! Great info!

    Stopping by from the SITS Challenge!

    • Jamee says:

      I am glad they changed the system as well. It sickens me that people would abuse the system the way they did! Absolutely sickening! Thanks for stopping by!


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