In the past, many families with special-needs children may have skipped vacations to theme parks, hotels and adventure spots because they didn’t feel comfortable with the facilities and services. But today, there are many more options. Thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act passed in 1990, many vacation destinations around the country are making summertime trips accessible and just as fun for kids with special needs.
Although the following attractions, among many others, provide exceptional facilities and services for children with special needs, it’s very important for families to prepare, call ahead and have a system in place before they arrive.
Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., extend the same impressive level of hospitality and services to children with special needs as they do every other guest. Guides for guests with disabilities and park guide maps are especially helpful to ensure that individuals with special needs enjoy a magical visit. Those with documented medical issues can receive a pass to skip the lines at rides.
Many Disney attractions, restaurants, shops and shows are accessible to all guests. In some cases, guests may need to transfer from their wheelchairs onto an attraction vehicle.
Individuals with disabilities get prime seats (first-come, first-served) on all parade routes, and some show areas have designated viewing places for guests with disabilities. Many of the transportation systems at the Disney parks are accessible to guests with disabilities.
Guests with visual disabilities may choose a Braille guidebook or an audio tour of the parks. For guests with hearing disabilities, listening devices are available at various locations. Some attractions offer reflective and video captioning, or have scripts available. Service animals are permitted in the parks; where the animals can go is different within the various parks. Disney.com
Universal Orlando, home of Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, allows guests with special needs to experience a world of wonder. To make guests visits’ enjoyable, the parks offer guidebooks for individuals with disabilities. The park will also offer a medical pass for cerain individuals who cannot wait in lines.
All shopping and dining facilities are wheelchair-accessible. Outdoor stage shows have areas reserved for guests with disabilities. Each attraction has specific boarding requirements and accommodations for those using wheelchairs. If a guest is capable of transferring to the ride vehicle’s seating, he or she may transfer. On some attractions, guests can even remain in their standard wheelchair throughout.
Additionally, the parks offer regularly scheduled interpreted performances, as well as closed captioning, assistive listening devices and attraction scripts. TTY telephones are available throughout the parks. For guests who are deaf or hard of hearing, Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TDDs) are located at the Guest Services Office and Health Services.
Service animals are welcome in all restaurant and merchandise locations, attraction queues and most other locations throughout Universal Orlando. Universalorlando.com
At LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad and LEGOLAND Florida in Winter Haven, all shops, restaurants, show venues and the majority of rides and attractions are ADA accessible. The park also provides special accommodations for individuals with hearing disabilities — it’s necessary for those with hearing disabilities to contact Guest Services two weeks prior to visiting at 760-918-LEGO to ensure the accommodations. Legoland.com
Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas, is the world’s first ultra-accessible family fun park. The 25-acre park was designed specially for children and adults with special needs, their family members, caregivers, friends and the entire community. People of all abilities can play, learn and share in a fun and safe environment. From the Wonderland Express Train ride, which pulls multiple cars with two specially designed wheelchair-accessible ramps, to the one-of-a-kind carousel featuring wheelchair chariots, rides and attractions allow everyone to join in the fun. Admission is free for individuals with special needs. Reservations are recommended. 210-495-5888, morganswonderland.com
Give Kids the World in Kissimmee is a 70-acre resort complete with more than 140 villa accommodations, entertainment attractions, whimsical venues and fun specifically designed for children with special needs. It’s open to children between the ages of 3 and 18 who have been diagnosed by a licensed doctor with a life-threatening illness. Children and their families visit the resort for a weeklong vacation free of charge: Those wanting to attend should contact one of more than 250 wish-granting organizations and children’s hospitals throughout the country that partner with Give Kids the World. 407-396-1114, gktw.org
At Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, seriously ill children with special needs and their families can enjoy a fun-filled getaway. Weeklong summer sessions for the children and family retreat weekends for the whole family are provided free of charge. 352-483-4200, boggycreek.org
Twenty percent of the population has a disability, and one in five families in touched. These families no longer have to avoid going on vacation in fear of there not being enough facilities or services for their special needs children. From theme parks to camps, children’s attractions are hearing the concerns of these families and ensuring that kids with special needs can have a fun-filled summer vacation.
Andrew J. Garnett is the president and CEO of Special Needs Group, 302 NW First St., Dania Beach. Go to specialneedsgroup.com or call 800-513-4515 for more information.
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