My accessible trip to Disney World with a disability, part 1

How the DAS program enabled our family to enjoy rides, despite my NMOSD

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

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First in a series.

Christmas, a bustling time for all, becomes particularly challenging for patients like me who have neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD), as it can take us out of our routine and add unwanted stress.

One holiday memory stands out and is yet to be beat: when my small family — my husband, Mike; our daughter, Sophie, who was a toddler at the time; and I — chose to skip traditional Christmas celebrations in lieu of a trip to Disney World. There were no gifts. We ate hot dogs instead of a complicated turkey dinner, and at midday, we returned to our resort for a nap. Despite the park’s crowds, Disney’s efficiency made it a truly joyful experience, culminating in an unforgettable Christmas Day fireworks show that remains unparalleled in my memory.

Earlier this year, Sophie, now 11, had to attend a dance competition in Florida. Because we would be in the area (we live in Toronto) and it had been some time since we’d visited Disney, I thought to surprise her with a visit to the theme park. However, my health isn’t the same as in years past. Walking for long periods, especially on concrete, leads to serious inflammation around my spine. Despite my brave face, my body eventually gives me away and walking is no longer an option.

I almost decided that my theme park days were done, but if Disney had created my favorite Christmas memory years ago, it deserved the chance to handle my NMOSD. Through my network, I discovered Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS).

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Utilizing DAS as an NMOSD patient

Disney seems to have thought of everything, including how to make a theme park visit equitable for those of us with a disability. Patients are invited to register for its DAS program, which allows those who can’t wait in lines to still enjoy the park. It’s a simple sign-up process that can be done online.

Once patients register, they’re scheduled for a virtual video call with a Disney specialist trained in DAS. At first, I was a little uncomfortable discussing my condition, especially because my NMOSD is largely invisible. NMOSD also is so rare most people have never heard of it, so when someone asks about the condition, there’s always an education component to the conversation.

Yet Greg, my Disney specialist, embodied an older brother figure, making it easy to speak to him. With his hearty laugh and exceptional empathy toward my difficulties, Greg even gave me some smart tips on how to navigate through the various parks at Disney World. The entire conversation lasted approximately 30 minutes, with Greg asking me what NMOSD was, how it affects my mobility, and what I needed to ensure my family enjoyed our time together at the park.

How DAS works

The first thing all Disney park attendees need to do is download the Disney app onto your smartphone. It’s one of the more user-friendly apps I’ve encountered, and it offers everything from your park tickets, restaurant reservations, and daily agenda to maps of the parks. NMOSD patients with visual impairments may have more difficulty using the app, but I can’t speak to this aspect, as I fortunately didn’t need to use any visual accessibility features.

As a DAS pass holder, once you’re at the park, you select the ride you want to get on and join a virtual queue. The app then provides you with an arrival time window. This is great for NMOSD patients who aren’t fast walkers, need to take breaks to sit down, or can’t stand and wait in long lines. Arriving earlier than our scheduled time allowed my family and me time to secure a seat nearby, giving my spine the rest it required.

Once you check in, there’s a separate line for DAS pass holders. It’s significantly shorter than the regular line, which at times meant we were able to walk onto the ride within a few minutes. Keep in mind that the DAS program doesn’t give you an advantage over other patrons; it simply allows you to spend the queue time in a different location.

One perk to the DAS program is that during our virtual video call, Greg provided me with a couple of DAS advance bookings. At the very least, I’d get to enjoy a few rides.

There is an option to purchase lightning passes for Disney’s more in-demand rides; however, with smart planning, it isn’t always necessary. This is guidance I’d share with both patients and regular park patrons.

Growing up, my family never had the means to visit any Disney park, but now that I’m a mother, there’s something special about enjoying the “happiest place on earth” through my daughter’s eyes — even with my NMOSD.

Check back in the new year to read more about Jennifer’s trip to Disney World.


Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.

Comments

Mary Medrano avatar

Mary Medrano

I was diagnosed miss diagnosed in April of 2020 with Transverse Myelitis. While at the Rehabilitation Hospital, I had a relapse and was diagnosed with NMOSD. It damaged my spinal sheath and was bed ridden for the majority of a year. I am able to walk short distances with a walker but spend the majority of my time in a wheelchair. I’ve been blessed with a husband that has card for me 24/7. We are in our mid 70’s and retired so it has worked out. I cannot imagine how you have managed a family and work with your disability. What a fun time you must have had at Disney World. Keep on posting your news column. I will keep on reading your stories.

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