Disney Innovates In Resort Accessibility,
Disney Innovates In Resort Accessibility,
Posted Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 6:49p Pacific Time
On Sundays Walt Disney would take his young daughters to the Griffith Park carousel. Sitting on a park bench watching his daughters having a good time Walt looked at the other parents also simply sitting watching their children having a good time, and as the story goes he dreamed of a park that adults and children could enjoy together. In 1955 that park, Disneyland came to life and at his opening day speech he proclaimed: "To all who come to this happy place. Welcome. Disneyland is your land"
Today, over 50 years later, Disney Parks continue to offer various theme park experiences that are accessible to guests of all ages. It's part of what makes the Disney Parks so magical. Not only do you remember your childhood rides on Dumbo during family vacation but as an adult you can build on those memories accompanying your child, grandchild or even great grandchild on a magical flight with the famous pachyderm. My own family held a small family reunion here at Walt Disney World to celebrate my grandmothers' 90th birthday last summer.
As Disney Parks carried on Walt's dream of a place where families could have fun together they have become "one of the most multi-generational, multi-ability/disability, multi-cultural, multi-lingual destinations in the world" according to Greg Hale Vice President, Worldwide Safety and Accessibility who along with his team offered a presentation on Disney Parks Accessibility to various media outlets earlier this summer. As his presentation began he explained, "We strive to make our rich stories and theme park experiences accessible to everyone."
Bob Minnick, Manager Facility Safety and Accessibility
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Throughout the event Disney Parks and Resorts showcased the many design choices and resources that assist in keeping the theme park experience accessible to all. As explained by Bob Minnick, Manager, Facility Safety and Accessibility, Disney practices "universal design philosophy" at their parks. For example a wheelchair accessible water fountain is also accessible for children, large park maps displayed along the walkway are simply enhanced with a tactile overlay making them accessible to sight impaired guests, and curb cuts that create greater accessibility for wheelchairs also benefit strollers or third shift cast members moving equipment.
Disney Parks strive to keep their many modes of transportation accessible to all. Floating docks are used so that its various boats are easily accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. The buses provide closed captioning of the recorded audio that plays along the route. At the Disney Resort hotels visual monitors for door knocks assist hearing impaired, text telephones are available as are wheelchair accessible bathrooms.
Among the highlights that impressed me were the various ways Disney Parks keep their recreation areas accessible to guests with special needs. I discovered their golf courses are accessible and offer a specially designed golf cart. The golfer need never leave the cart. A belt keeps the golfer in place, the chair swivels to provide access to the green, tilting back the canopy at the same time to provide a clear shot. I was amazed and thought it could be a great addition to a family vacation. I wonder how many guests who thought they could no longer golf have once again enjoyed a day on the greens.
Once again bringing to light their "universal design philosophy" the Resorts sloped entry pool were showcased as a way to make water play accessible via wheelchair (water friendly wheelchairs are offered) while also providing a popular area for smaller children to play.
Did you know that mobility impaired guests can gain access to Disney's popular water slides such as those on Mt Gushmore or Crush N Gusher? Blizzard Beach's ski lift has a special car can be used to carry wheelchair guests and Crush N Gusher has an elevator lift. I'm unable to wear my leg brace while at a water park so stairs are a small challenge. Thanks to the elevator I'm able to enjoy Crush N Gusher.
In the theme parks Disney has designated first-come, first-served parade viewing areas for guests in wheelchairs and have introduced a Grand Marshall vehicle that is wheelchair accessible.
Over the years Disney has improved access to their theme park attraction vehicles with the input from Disney's CastABLE Diversity Resource Group, described as an inclusion & diversity group for disabled employees. They are not only an important part in creating accessible guest experiences but they also assist in making Disney a good career choice for someone with a disability.
Their input helped improve seated guest transfer to the ride vehicle. The trains of Expedition Everest are accessible by design while Disney has retrofitted attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with the swing away doors. This design permits a seated guest to wheel up to the train, slide from the wheelchair to the train seat and then a cast member replaces and locks the door safely back into place. Based on guest input Disney placed a test vehicle near the ride entrance as the opportunity to practice the transfer maneuver was requested given the fast pace of loading. In recent years the Jungle Cruise has added a boat with a wheelchair lift allowing seated guests to ride without needing to transfer. The relatively new Toy Story Midway Mania was designed with a load spur, a turnout that permits guests to load at their own pace without impacting the general flow of the attraction. The ride vehicle also offers on-board closed captioning and an alternate button shooting mechanism is available in addition to the pull string.
But Disney not only works to make their experiences and attractions accessible through their physical design to all they have also used technological innovations to bring theme parks experiences to life. In 1982 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act the Disney Company was not only creating parks that were accessible to mobility challenged visitors but they offered assistive listening for guests with mild to moderate hearing loss on many of Epcot's theater attractions via special headsets. In 1996 they began using video captions and integrated reflective captioning into theater experiences such as the Country Bear Jamboree.
But Disney Parks wanted to provide captioning to guests within their moving attractions, so in 2001 they rolled out their assistive technology device. Our host Greg Hale is credited as co-inventor of the device. Emitters placed throughout an attraction communicate with Disney's assistive technology device ensuring the appropriate dialogue is presented at the correct time. The first attraction to offer the handheld captioning was One Man's Dream, a walk-through attraction where guests browse various exhibits at their own pace. At the Haunted Mansion the device's communication with the emitters ensures appropriate dialogue accompanies its intended scenes no matter the speed of the doombuggy even if playful spooks disrupt your trip.
In the 1980s audio descriptions as a tool for the sight impaired emerged for television programming. As with closed captioning WGBH was at the forefront of bringing this essential tool to the public. They assisted in bringing audio description to home video in 1994 with Disney's release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and began providing it for select theatrical release in 1997. In 2009 Disney Parks added audio description to over 50 attractions & theater shows at their US theme parks. And last summer they debuted their new outdoor theme park environment audio descriptions for Walt Disney World's four parks and plan to bring that service to Disneyland next year. Using wireless technology to pinpoint its location the device vibrates to indicate new content is available with various audio menus allowing the user to delve more deeply into topics of greater interest. The rich images of Walt Disney World's theme parks come alive in a new way for sight-impaired guests.
Listen to an audio description of Main Street
Disney partnered with WGBH Boston, which is considered a pioneer in developing multimedia and new technologies that make media accessible for the disabled, to create the parks' audio descriptions. In brief presentation on the art of audio description Mr Goldberg explained the focus is conveying key content that is important to the story. "What do you need to know?" While in the past they had created audio descriptions for television or movies creating that type of content for a real world experience was new challenge. The natural pauses provided in a television or movie presentation are different than those found while strolling through a theme park.
Disney has patented and licensed the assistive technology which could serve a wide variety of retail, commercial and industrial applications. The technology is already being used at the World of Coca Cola Museum, The Hall at Patriot Place and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and received the National Society of Professional Engineers 2010 “New Product Award”.
Now amplified audio of theater-type attraction for guests with mild to moderate hearing loss, handheld captioning for various attractions, activation of closed-captioning in pre-show areas where televisions are used, and the rich audio descriptions are all available through Disney's Assistive Technology Device which guests can pick up from Guest Services for a modest fully-refundable deposit. The device even features a standard audio jack so guests can use their own headphones. In talking about Disney's focus on creating accessible experiences, Larry Goldberg, director of media access at WGBH Boston said, "I know of no other public space in this country – or anywhere else for that matter – that is as welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities as Disney’s theme parks"
So the next time you're bragging about Disney's amazing customer service -and as Disney fans you know we all do - don't forget their commitment to making Disney parks a vacation destination that the entire family can enjoy together.