Visiting Disney World with a Child with Special Needs Part 2

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.

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36 Responses

  1. This is both a beautiful piece that moved me to near-tears at the very end, and also a welcome chance to rethink my attitude about a corporation treated (as you note) as an unmitigated villain by so many.Report

  2. North says:

    A great post Rose and thought provoking. I definitly suffered an anti-Disney phase, though it was more of an “ugh they’re so cheesy and corny” than it was “ugh they’re an evil culture destroying corporation” but I have mellowed on them a lot since then to a genial tolerance. Frozen wasn’t terrible (and I loved the subtle callout to gay families) and the new Malificent movie looks like it may be great (though it could easily be god awful).Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    “…we were just like any other family.”

    Sounds to me like it was well worth it. Here’s to hoping that the rest of society — be it an amusement park or a $250-per-person restaurant — becomes more willing and better able to understand, respect, and accommodate the needs of others.Report

  4. J@m3z Aitch says:

    I’ve enjoyed both these posts, Rose. Here’s my two cents.

    I once worked at a place that had regular training–I had to do a 1 hour customer service training session once or twice a month. It was dull and fairly repetitive, but it did work to keep customer service in mind at all times (some of it was as simple as “never point a customer to the right location, lead them there”). They got the idea from Disney, and even used a few of Disney’s own training films.

    More deeply, I often wonder if the word “accommodation” is poorly chosen. It implicitly emphasizes the disability. Maybe a word like “mobilizing” would be better.Report

  5. Rose Woodhouse says:

    Ah, forgot to add my favorite moment in the trip. We were looking for handicapped parking, and George called it “candy-popped.” I now wish to change the word “disabled” or “handicapped” to “candy-popped.”Report

    • Oh, sure. As if the picture of the kid and the goat wasn’t cute enough. 🙂

      I’m so pleased for you and your family that you had this experience! Disney deserves props for picking good people to work its parks and having them trained so well.Report

  6. Mike Schilling says:

    I’m happy your family had such a lovely time.

    Disney genuinely understands the value of happy customers and works hard to achieve that. Whenever I call the phone company, and after five levels of voice menu and 30 minutes on hold, I’m greeted with “How may I offer you excellent service today?”, I’m reminded of the difference between commitment and lip service.Report

  7. dhex says:

    aesthetically i really, really dislike disney and it’s attitude (and often heavily gendered assumptions) toward play, roles, and ceaseless marketing. i dread the (presumed) disney vacation when tiny genghis is old enough.

    but this was a great series and i’ll be sending it along to folk i know, childless or otherwise. i’m glad your kids had a (mostly) great time.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to dhex says:

      Yeah, the gender thing is seriously off-putting. Although maybe they are trying to change that a bit (Brave)? But the princesses, dear Lord, the princesses! Another favorite moment I didn’t mention: we went to a restaurant that featured actresses in costume pretending to be Cinderella, et al. My oldest peered at them and asked, “Are those animatronics?”

      He preferred Minnie ears to Mickey ears, however, and no one seemed to care much.Report

      • dhex in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        i think frozen was trying to do something different (and i can kinda see the glbt subtext if i squint hard enough) but it was basically torture to sit through that. princesses gotta princess i guess.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        If you thought well of Brave, go see Frozen. Of the two, I’d say it’s the better film.Report

      • North in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Well they tiptoed right up to the line with “Hello Family” and the fundamental premise of Frozen; that you shouldn’t have to hide what you are and live in misery just to spare the prejudices of others; was a pure LGBT friendly theme so yes I’d agree dhex and Katherine that Frozen was an expecially LGBT friendly theme.

        I’m not even remotely surprised, Disney is a corporation and they’ve seen the writing on the wall for quite some time now.Report

      • Pete Mack in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Well, the Evil Queens get all the props at youtube. Those ladies can act.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to dhex says:

      I’m not a fan of princess culture either but I’m impressed in a cynical sort of way about Disney’s ability to create an entire kid culture within a relatively short amount of time. Princess culture really didn’t exist in the United States until Disney decided to market their heroines as the Disney Princess line in early part of this century. Its disgusting, it probably goes against the tenants of democracy but there is nothing that could be done about it probably. Well, I can think of one thing that might work but it would be disgusting.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to dhex says:

      It’s the copyright stuff that really rankles me–just straight-up thievery from the public commonweal, committed by expensive lawyers in suits. I know it’s no worse than what a lot of other corporations have done, but I cut my teeth on it and it still has the power to annoy.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Dan Miller says:

        The creative project I am developing involves a lot of public domain characters. A few years ago, Dynamite Entertainment did the same thing. Which would be cool by me if they didn’t start asserting trademarks over these characters’ (mostly created in the 30’s and 40’s, by people with no relationship to Dynamite Entertainment) names. It puts everything in a frustrating gray-zone.Report

      • Kim in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Wait? You think that’s bad? Oh, boy, you have No Idea.Report

  8. zic says:

    Rose, I cannot comprehend you did this. For multiple days. It boggles the mind.* I remain yours in admiration, you’re a far, far better woman then I aspire to be, let alone am.

    *My brother worked at Disney World while my sprouts were still sprouting. I did this for one day. With one of them, the elder sprout being uncomfortable in crowds. With my brother, who worked there. And I will never, ever, ever do it again.Report

  9. Tod Kelly says:

    This was a really tremendous post, which is to say that both were (I’m counting them as one longread in my head).

    I still never want to go to Disney land again, mind you. When I was growing up it was the dullest amusement park on the planet for the over-5 set, and EVERYONE who ever visited us from out of state wanted to be taken, so I went a lot. But I confess I find this report of their attitude (and, I have to assume, universal new-emplyee training) toward people with special needs to be admirable.

    You talk in the first part of this post about, essentially, mobilization, so it’s worth noting as a reader how much of what made your visits so pleasant was simply people. When you see it laid out like that, you realize how very, very little it would take to make life better for people with special needs pretty much everywhere.

    If you don’t mind, I might pass this piece along in a professional capacity.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Tod, that would be great if only because I would like to publicize this aspect of what Disney does to influence other businesses. With the caveat, of course, that I wrote this on the fly, and would change several things.

      Definitely, it was people. (Soylent Green!). No, really, I was surprised to find how much employee attitude mattered.Report

      • zic in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I remember my brother saying that you constantly get training and updated training to hone those people skills; that the customer (particularly if that customer’s a child) comes first.

        What surprises me is that the same people-centered ethic doesn’t extend outside the staff in the parks themselves to employees working at the other portions of the resort.

        Disney, you listening?Report

  10. Damon says:

    While it sounds like you had some minor difficulties, overall, the vacation was a sucess, and for that I’m pleased for you and your family.

    A few other thoughts:
    As a plotter for world domination, I have to say that Disney is no where half as evil as REAL plotters and wannabe dominators. 🙂

    My father is now in a powered wheel chair so I have some greater idea of disability accomodation than i did previously and I’m been quite satisfied with the accomodations staff that I’ve encountered. I was recently at a convention in Dallas and the entire hotel staff i encoutered were very responsive and proactive.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Damon says:

      In general, hotels > airlines > restaurants > all other businesses I can think of at accommodating disability. In general, his motor disability is more readily accommodated than his cognitive disability.Report

  11. LWA says:

    Rose, thank you for both posts.
    Mrs. LWA, by chance, is a cast member in Guest Relations at Disneyland.

    It is gratifying to hear an experience from your point of view. Mrs. LWA sought guest relations precisely because she is the sort of person Guest Relations was meant for- she is endlessly cheerful, smiling, and thrives on making people happy.

    Your experiences sound very much like what Mrs. LWA reports from her side of the counter. There are cast members like Jorge who are exemplary, and others who are not-so-much.

    There are guests like you and james who need special attention, either because of a mixup on passes, or because of a special need, and then there are guests who are attempting to defraud the system.

    Again thank you for the perspecitve- it will give Mrs. LWA a cheer to hear of someone having amagical time.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to LWA says:

      And please let Mrs. LWA know that the folks in Guest Relations were awesomely helpful and professional and thank her for me. We have it easy, in a sense, because James is visibly obviously disabled. No one who sees him thinks we’re trying to scam anyone (or I suppose they may think he’s the child actor of the century). Which may be why we experienced all the negative/suspicious reactions when I phoned someone, and not in person. I imagine someone whose disability is less visible would have more issues. (I admit having a moment of suspicion myself when I saw a healthy-looking teenager in a wheelchair with a friend sitting in her lap…”not every disability is visible,” I reminded myself…but not every claimed disability is genuine, either.)Report

  12. Burt Likko says:

    We get a decent number of people with varying physical capabilities in court and in our law office. Part of our practice, not that I handle personally much but I do observe and help out, are drafting trusts often for people of very advanced years and significant diminished physical capacities. Obviously, coming to court, or even coming to see a lawyer, are not typically events that bear the inherent happiness and fun of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

    I hold doors open and walk a little slower as a courtesy. I make and hold eye contact and don’t talk down to the person — just because their legs don’t work like mine doesn’t mean they aren’t smart and capable of making decisions. Sometimes getting signatures from someone with limited dexterity or hand strength is a bit of a challenge, but that’s one reason why we have notaries on staff.

    But mainly, it’s treating a needed accommodation as a matter of course, and offering the same dignity you casually afford anyone else.Report

  13. Stella B. says:

    I’m a retired physician who used to practice near Disneyland. A lot of my patients were employees … in other words they had decent benefits, a union, and adequate pay to cover housing, food, etc. without more than a HS diploma. It’s not an evil company.Report

  14. Kolohe says:

    “(if you get Wilson on the phone, hang up and try again – he’s no help whatsoever).”

    To be fair, he carried Walt through that planewreck in the South Pacific and all it looks like he got was a crummy phone bank job.

    (but really, great series of articles. Thank you for writing them.)Report

  15. Peter says:

    My guess is that Wilson was such a douche nozzle in large part because he dealt with you over the telephone rather than in-person like the much more helpful Jorge. It’s a lot harder to be obstructionist and useless when you’re in a face-to-face encounter.Report

  16. Miss Mary says:

    I didn’t get to say this on the first post, since the comments were closed, but I was a child-free person on my last trip to Disneyland, but I like the kids… so there’s that. I left my three year old at home (see your comments regarding George’s “fun time” at Disney World) and crashed Disneyland and California Adventure for two days. Not bad. California Adventure has booze and roller coasters, fantastic combination. I promise to take Junior when he will actually enjoy it. Your story leads me to believe that will be when he is about six years old.

    Anyhow, I appreciate the post, Rose. Although I don’t have a family member with a disability, I surround myself with awesome people who experience disability. I’ve taken to babysitting my friend’s 10 year old daughter who has Autism. She is always stimming and has apraxia, but mostly she is an energetic 10 year old girl who likes earrings, styling hair, and teasing you with her speech generating device. (She knows it drives me crazy when she presses the “orange” button 25 times in a row!) She had a great time on her trip to Disneyland last year. Where was I going with this? Oh yes, I begrudgingly cut Disney a little slack.Report

    • Kim in reply to Miss Mary says:

      I cut Disney no slack at all.
      But, ya know, it’s not the fact that they’re evil…
      That’s expected, they’re a corporation after all.
      It’s that they are so, so stupid.Report