Visiting Disney World is a dream vacation and my family has been fortunate enough to have years of treasured memories from our Disney vacations. On each visit we hustled from one attraction to another, viewed the fireworks and electrical parade, enjoyed every musical and stage performance.
At first glance, our family appeared like any other Disney-addicted guests: excited and laughing, taking photos and enjoying every minute of the magic. Yes, we make the most of every day of our Disney vacation. However, the parks — cram packed with guests and dim lighting, meant to set the mood for attractions — turns the Happiest Place on Earth into a frustrating and anxious experience for my daughter, who is visually impaired.
No, my daughter does not need a white cane or guide dog during the daytime, but when she enters some of the low-lit attraction queues, or areas with steps, her disability becomes evident. She has low vision, problems with depth perception, sensitivity to light and night blindness. Her disability is not obvious to most, but it requires modifications to ensure her safety and to make sure she can enjoy Disney to the fullest extent possible.
Some of the challenges we experienced with her over the years have been humorous. Take for example the time we were walking through the regular queue at Under the Seas with Nemo. Dim lighting simulates total blindness for her, and as we stood in the queue waiting further movement forward she began talking to the man in front of her, mistakenly thinking that man was her mother. When he stared in disbelief she looked directly at him, totally frustrated and said, “Mom, why aren’t you answering me?” He did not see the humor in a young girl, standing in close proximity, calling him “Mom.”
Unfortunately, watching her try to maneuver through the crowds at night is anything but humorous. Most people are totally oblivious to anyone outside their immediate group and there is usually little respect for her white cane-attempt to walk through the throngs of people.
I was particularly saddened when one family stared at her and started talking about her like she was some kind of oddity. The boy said, “Oh I saw someone with a cane like that before.” To which the Mom said, “Yes, she is blind I guess.”
If you want to make someone feel self-conscious, that’s the way to do it! Feeling quite deflated, my daughter just walked past them and said, “There’s nothing wrong with my hearing.”
While some of the guest experiences have created unpleasant memories, the cast members at Walt Disney World provided exceptional support. If you (or someone travelling with you) has vision issues, here are some points which might help:
- Go to Guest Services and register for Disability Access Service (DAS). DAS is intended for guests whose disability prevents them from waiting in a conventional queue environment. This service allows guests to schedule a return time that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction. Return times are valid until redeemed prior to park closing.
- We had a letter from my daughter’s doctor confirming her visual impairments, but Disney does not require proof. The cast member takes a photo of the person with the disability, and scans the bands of all family members. It’s as simple a process as that! To learn more about DAS, click here.
- DAS helped us get through the shorter queues in the FastPass route, and cast members were very helpful when they learned we had a DAS.
- One drawback to DAS: It does not provide access to front seats or special needs areas for parades, etc. However, as soon as we explained my daughter’s vision issues to a cast member in any park, they were always helpful in ensuring she was seated close to the stage for optimal viewing. And, the special needs sections that are often roped for guests in wheelchairs and scooters provides our daughter with the space she needs to maneuver in low lighting at her comfortable pace.
The system at Disney World is not perfect, but I believe they are working hard to accommodate individuals who experience challenges as a result of a disability. The cast members we encountered get a thumbs up from us!