Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What Accommodations Can Mean For A Family Vacation

Our family loves Disney World, it's always been a place of pure joy for the girls. A lot of times it feels that we leave our troubles at the gate and enter a world of magic, even as we push our Special Needs Superstar in her Adapted Stroller. So, we've followed the recent news regarding the Guest Assistance Cards pretty closely. Here's our story:

Back in the Spring, a story broke on the Today Show about Socialites who were hiring individuals with disabilities as tour guides to either pose as family members or part of their party so that they may gain faster access to rides and cut their wait time down at popular attractions at Disney World. Wait, WHAT??? Being a mom of a special needs kiddo, this story made me sick to my stomach! To think there was such insensitivity and a sense of entitlement in the world - just blew my mind! Being the Disney lovers our family is, we have followed the stories that have been coming out quite avidly. Disney's new DISABILITY ASSISTANCE SERVICE CARD, goes into effect on October 9th 2013. Disney has released the following Fact Sheet about the new program:
Disney Parks Disability Assistance Card Fact Sheet

Of course, my first question is: How will this effect my child and my family? And then, how does it effect individuals with varying needs. For us, Little Miss M has Autism, ADD, Seizures, Heat Intolerance, Sensory Disorder, Developmental Coordination Disorder, and Asthma, with more diagnoses likely after upcoming doctor appointments. Due to all of these conditions and her treatment,s she also fatigues very easily and is unable to stand for lengthy periods of time. Heat and fatigue mean more seizures and uncontrollable meltdowns. We discovered, very early on, that a lot of these issues could be kept in check if Little Miss M was allowed to stay in her special chair while waiting in line or watching shows. Instead of managing meltdowns and constantly replacing ice packs in her cooling vest, we were able to push her through the parks and wait in lines with her seated. She in turn was able to focus on reading the map or her beloved guide book, instead of falling into people or accidentally stepping on everyone within a certain radius of her. Once we learned of the previously known Guest Assistance Card, our vacations changed dramatically. The apprehensions we felt just getting in line with Little Miss M were just about gone knowing we could keep her in her chair. We were able to request and institute the accommodations that would best suit Little Miss M.

This was a magic we found at Disney. They helped us to create a vacation that was both accessible and accommodating to our Disney-loving daughter. No, she cannot tolerate long lines and no, she cannot handle heat and crowds. So, we make our own accommodations and travel in cooler months and not during the busy season. Our family realizes that a Disney vacation is a luxury, not a necessity. It is something we save for and plan for with the hopes of creating lasting memories for our kids. It is worth it all though to see a little girl who shies away from many social situations, who withdraws to the scripts and stories she's most familiar with, come out and INTERACT with the beloved characters of those stories. That alone is worth every penny in my opinion!

 Little Miss M is special, her brain works differently. She's had people tell her their kids can't be friends with her because she's different. She's been told, no - you can't eat that piece of cake or that apple because it's not on your special medical diet. She's been told no so many times in her almost 8 years. She's also been told, yes you have to have another blood test, and yes another doctor has to examine you, and yes you have to have all those buttons glued to your head yet again. However, when we walk through the front gates of Disney World, all of that seems to melt away and disappear. We forget about the things she "can't" do, and we're able to embrace all the things she can.

Perhaps I sound a little dreamy about Disney. The truth is, I know we've battled meltdowns. I know there have been seizures and that we've ended up at the clinic on just about every visit, but the happy memories of the vacations are so AMAZING, even I am able to forget about the struggles. For us, going to Disney World isn't about going to an amusement park. It isn't about getting on every ride. It's about going to a magical land where our kids get to be kids, and we get to stop worrying about tomorrow's doctor's appointment or next week's IEP meeting and just watch them have fun.

According to Disney, Little Miss M can still stay in her adapted stroller for those rides with lines wide enough to accommodate it. This means almost every single ride in Disney World. She has always waited in these lines and has never been ushered to the front. We have had cast members notice us struggling and offer us a quiet place to wait or offered stickers or guide maps as distractions. Some of the changes to the line areas are so incredibly interactive and tactile, that Little Miss M was upset if we were ushered in a different way!

The new policy is put into place because people were abusing the system and Disney had to respond in a way that was both fair and still accommodating. It won't make everyone happy, nothing ever does. And honestly, I have personal faith in Disney. My concern really isn't as much for the new policy as it is for the stigma and culture that exists outside our protected bubble. From various reactions, it seems there is a part of society that puts special needs children into a box, that seeks to fit every square peg into a round shaped hole. Seeing those comments make me sad and angry. I really feel if you open your eyes and yourself to the beauty of a special needs child and the gifts they possess, you will feel your heart open with love. For the culture of families that embrace every child, no matter how different, Thank You! Thank you for raising accepting citizens who understand that underneath disabilities and limitations, there are people who all possess a special gift. 

We're planning our next trip to Disney, and it will be filled with accommodations we put in place for our children, typical and special. It will be aided by Disney being understanding and helpful. And it  would be truly magical if every single person in the parks just shared a smile with my daughter as she rides around in her adapted stroller beaming like the princess she is!


Amanda cherishes every minute she gets to spend with her husband and three beautiful daughters and she'll even wear sparkly green ears because they asked her to!

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