Jewish Journal

Why can’t our community be more like Disneyland for people with disabilities?

by Michelle K. Wolf

February 3, 2013 | 11:50 pm

We just returned from a fun, tiring and expensive day at Disneyland and our 18-year-old son, Danny, with multiple disabilities loved it, especially the Winnie-the-Pooh ride which he went on five times in a row (my husband was the saint; I bailed out after two whirls in the honey pot).  Turns out that lots of people in Southern California don’t really care about the Super Bowl but they do like going to Disneyland when it’s sunny during the winter months.

Everywhere we turned, there were people with disabilities—kids in wheelchairs, adults in manual wheelchairs, and seniors in electric wheelchairs, not to mention all the people with canes and walkers. Even though Disneyland has made it harder to get a disability pass, the disability lines at the exits of most rides were substantial, although still quicker and easier to negotiate than the regular lines.

The reason why so many people with disabilities visit Disneyland is much more than it being simply a fun destination – they really “get it” when it comes to making people with disabilities feel comfortable. Every “cast member” as they call their staff, is trained on disability awareness, from the guy in the parking lot to the lady playing the role of Ariel the mermaid. We expect the ride operators to ask about Danny’s ability to transition from his stroller to the ride, but not necessarily the hostess in the restaurant, and yet she knew to ask.

Since the passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), the Disney people have done their best to make their rides as accessible as possible, but since many of the classic rides, such as the Fantasyland rides from the various movies (Peter Pan, Snow White, etc.) were built in 1955 when the park first opened, the exits are very narrow, making it very tricky to have people exiting and entering in the same space, yet they find a way to make it happen. Today, cast members came out and helped with the lines when needed, and made sure there was room for all the various types of mobility equipment.

I was most impressed that Cast Members were able to remember who belonged to which stroller/wheelchair, and had ours waiting for us at the end of the ride (a shout out to the guy at the Nemo ride!). Another nice moment was when the staff on the parade route were cool with letting Danny stay in his stroller and not transfer to the bench even though the other people around us in wheelchairs had made the switch to reduce the crowding in the area.

So, what are the take-away lessons for the Jewish community, especially during February, Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month?

1) Everyone in the organization needs to be trained in disability awareness, especially the staff in the parking lot, security guards and receptionists
2) Don’t go to “no” as a first response. If someone is asking for an accommodation, be creative and try to come up with a solution before worrying about the expense or lack of specialized staff
3) Treat each person with disabilities as an individual and try to avoid rules or regulations that disregard personal preferences

With a little more effort, maybe there can be more families and adults singing “Hi-ho, Hi-ho, it’s off to shul we go!”

PS. Please check out all the wonderful events happening in Los Angeles during Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month and take the inclusion pledge here.

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