We interviewed two professionals in the prosthetic health care field who are both amputees themselves, and we spoke with a cast member from the Services for Guests with Disabilities department at Disney. We’ll share their interviews, along with some additional suggestions for amputees.
Interview 1 with Karen Hughes: Tips for Amputees & Prosthetics Users
We spoke with Karen Hughes, a Patient Advocate for Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates in the Orlando area (www.poacfl.com). The company is a prosthetic repair resource for out of town visitors, and Karen a Disney fan herself. She had above the knee amputation at the age of 13, and wears a lower limb prosthetic. Disney is Karen’s favorite Orlando area park, especially because of the support they give. Disney is so much easier for her than the other parks, and she had a number of suggestions for amputees.
Should I use a wheelchair or walk at Disney World if I have a prosthetic leg?
According to Karen, if you’re wearing a Prosthetic leg, determining whether or not to use a wheelchair at Disney will depend on your health and strength. If your prosthetic fits well and you have no other health issues, most amputees should be able to go without a wheelchair. However if you can’t walk long distances in your regular life, you’ll need a wheelchair. Karen can walk circles around others, and finds walking easy as long as she’s moving. Standing is what she and many of her patients find difficult, since it’s like standing on one foot. It hurts her back and her legs get tired.
Author’s note: When it comes to mobility issues, Disney does not have a way to shorten your wait time for rides and attractions (unless you’re visiting through a program such as Make a Wish or Give Kids the World).
Although they have something called DAS (Disability Access Service), it is not designed to shorten wait times. It’s purpose is to allow guests who have difficulty waiting in lines to wait elsewhere for much of the wait time. You can read more about the DAS here.
If you feel you’ll have difficulty standing in lines for long periods, Disney’s policy is to suggest that you rent a wheelchair or scooter. If you are not sure about whether you will need to do that or not, check out this article called Should I Walk or Use a Wheelchair/Scooter on my Disney World Trip?
Ride access in the Disney World Parks
Karen finds that most, though not all rides at Disney are accessible. For most rides you can bypass stairs if needed. If you’re in a wheelchair or scooter, you’ll be sent through an accessible path if it’s available. If you’re walking but find stairs difficult, ask a Cast Member at the queue entrance to direct you.
Karen finds that most ride cars are easy to get in and out of, but some may pose a challenge. For example, the Space Mountain ride cars can be tough because of the seating and leg room design, and because they’re so low to the ground. Some people have limited bending of the knee which can make it difficult. She suggests avoiding rides that may cause discomfort. Karen does go on Space Mountain, but she finds it challenging. She notes that none of the rides at Disney (other than Soarin’ in Epcot), have your legs dangling free. So there’s no concern about losing a leg prosthetic (except on Soarin’). For more information on this, check out these articles:
- Going on Disney World Rides: For those with wheelchairs, ECV’s or mobility issues
- Getting Help While Boarding Rides at Disney World (mobility problems, wheelchairs or ECVs)
Moving Sidewalks on the rides at Disney World
Some rides have moving sidewalks, most of which can be stopped or slowed if necessary. Although Karen doesn’t need this, a lot of her patients do. She says that if you’re confident in your balance during your daily life, you should be okay getting on a moving sidewalk. Regardless, the Disney cast members are really good about stopping the sidewalks for you (author’s note: some rides don’t offer this option, and on some rides the moving sidewalk can only be slowed but not stopped.) For more information on this, check out this article:
Using Moving Walkways at Disney World (with wheelchairs, ECVs and mobility problems)
Transferring to a ride car without a prosthetic leg
If you’re visiting the parks without wearing a leg prosthetic, you’ll need someone to help you transfer if you’re unable to do so by yourself. The Disney cast members can lend an arm to steady you, but they can’t touch you in any other way. Another consideration for those without a leg or arm prosthetic is that you won’t be able to safely ride some attractions because you may not be able to properly brace yourself. This is especially true if you’re missing an arm or leg high up. The cast member at each attraction can let you know if you can ride or not.
Interview 2 with Dan Strzempka: Tips for Amputees & Prosthetics Users
We spoke with Dan Strzempka, a Certified Prosthetist/Orthotist, and the Area Practice Manager for Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics (www.Hanger.com). Dan had his left leg amputated above the left knee when he was four years old. He and his family have season passes to Disney, so he’s a frequent visitor there.
Dan was enthusiastic about the lack of restrictions for amputees in the four main Disney parks as opposed to the other Orlando and Tampa area parks. He finds the Disney cast members to be smart, caring, fun loving people who are there to help you have a good time. He says that he always has great experiences, and finds that there’s more than ample help. He believes that Disney has done a great job making the parks a great place for people with disabilities.
Managing in the Water Parks as an amputee or prosthetic user
Dan manages very well, but he pointed out that he’s very physically strong and able. There’s a lot of sand which he feels is not the easiest surface to walk on. It can also be challenging to get around in the water.
Many of the water rides require walking up stairs. Cast members can help you by lending a steadying arm, or allowing you to go to the front of the line. They can also assist you by taking your crutches to the bottom once you’re at the top. Since an amputee’s physical challenge is usually very obvious when in a swim suit, he finds that cast members will often approach you to see if you need assistance. However Dan suggests that you not be shy about asking for help when you need it, but be willing to understand the cast member’s limitations. For example, don’t ask them to carry you up stairs.
For those who are not comfortable standing or using crutches, Dan suggests using a sand wheelchair if available. If you have a swimming or shower type prosthetic, you may be able to use it on some of the rides, but all other prosthetics shouldn’t get wet. Also, he feels that some of the rides are safer without a prosthetic.
Managing in the four main parks as an amputee or prosthetic user
According to Dan, those with hand and arm prosthetics experience very few limitations at Disney. Around the parks there are always places to sit down, and you won’t have to go far to find somewhere to rest.
(Author’s note: If you’re not used to walking miles and standing on your feet most of the day and night, we strongly suggest renting a wheelchair or scooter.)
Prior to your trip, Dan suggests getting to know the parks and short cuts by studying maps. When you’re at Disney, don’t hesitate to ask cast members for the shortest route to get where you’re going. In Epcot’s World Showcase, he likes that if you’re tired, rather than walking around the lake you can jump on a boat to get across.
Managing at Transportation areas around Disney World
Transportation depots, especially at the MK and Epcot are quite far from the park entrances. If you’re renting a wheelchair inside the park, you won’t have use of it to get to and from the transportation areas. At the end of the day it’s hard to do that extra walking, and Dan suggests that you keep the walk in mind when you’re deciding when to leave. (Author’s note: There are usually some complementary wheelchairs left in the handicapped parking areas. We recommend renting a wheelchair or scooter from an non-Disney company so you have use of it everywhere.) The bus depots have a small number of benches, and Dan says that most people will give way if you need to sit.
Walking surfaces at Disney World
Dan finds the surfaces to be excellent in the Disney parks. They’re rough enough so that even in rain he doesn’t find them slippery. Karen Hughes (above) finds the surfaces in Animal Kingdom to be a bit more challenging because of the hills and uneven, textured surfaces. However Dan still finds this park to be physically easy. He notes that there are usually rails or supportive ropes over the main bridges and hills. He finds the front of the park to be hilly, but he takes it slow and does fine. He added that since he finds that any uneven surface changes at Disney usually happen gradually, he does well with them.
Keeping your prosthetic dry while at Disney World
Most rides in the four main parks don’t get guests wet, though some do. Use caution since some prosthetics are computerized or have joints that should not get wet. Dan suggests treating your prosthetic as you would a camera. If you’re going on a wet ride, bring something to keep it covered. Dan suggests bringing a trash bag or rain coat. If you’re stuck you can always get a plastic shopping bag from a park store (Author’s note: You can also purchase rain ponchos throughout the stores in the parks and resorts – ask at the register).
Dan also noted that there are some places in the parks and in Disney Springs where they don’t advertise wet areas well. For example, in Magic Kingdom, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin ride has water spitting camels. If you’re not aware of it, you could get wet. Watch for wet spots on the ground on dry days and stay away from those areas so that your prosthetic doesn’t get wet from having water shot at you.
Sweating & prosthetics at Disney World
Some attraction lines don’t have air conditioning or great ventilation. You’ll also be walking from attraction to attraction. It can get extremely hot in Florida. On hot days this can cause sweating, which can make your skin slippery and the prosthetic can become uncomfortable. Try to visit during cooler times. If you must come during hot weather, try to stay in air conditioned or shaded areas as much as possible.
Resorts at Disney World
Most of the resorts have their transportation and activity areas near each other in a central area. Dan suggests you request a room close to the activities. (Author’s note: You may wish to avoid the larger resorts that have their activities spread out, such as Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs.
Interview 3 – Tips from a Disney World Cast Member
We spoke with a cast member from the Services for Guests with Disabilities department at Disney.
Ride tips for amputees and prosthetic users
The Cast Member felt that there are several types of situations to consider when determining if a ride is appropriate for you. At each attraction, cast members are trained for pre-boarding screening. They’ll help you determine what the ride entails and can help you decide if you can manage the attraction.
Some rides have certain requirements. For example, if you have amputation of both lower extremities and you’re not wearing prosthetics, you may not be able to go on rides that require lower extremity strength for safety. In order to have the strength and ability to restrain yourself on some rides, your lower extremities must reach beyond the end of the seat. This comes into play on rides with lap bars or seat belts. Disney also requires that you meet the ride’s height requirement. If you’re wearing leg prosthetics, this is usually fine since they feel the prosthetic enables you to ride safely.
If you have upper body amputation, consider that some attractions will require upper body strength to sit upright. For example some rides stop short or spin, and you must be able to hold yourself in position. On some rides, having a companion that assists and restrains you may be adequate. Many thrill rides all ready have restraints in place that make it possible to ride, even if you’re unable to restrain yourself.
Water Park tips for amputees and prosthetic users
In the water parks, pick up the information sheet for amputees at Guest Relations. If you’re wearing a prosthetic that has metal in it, you will not be able to use it on the slides or on the raft rides. Certain rides require guests to hold on with two hands. A Cast member will help you decide if you meet boarding requirements. See the Water Parks chapters for more details.
More info from the author for amputees and prosthetic users
Prosthetic repairs & issues: If you wear a prosthetic device, be sure it’s functioning and fitting properly prior to your visit. While you’re at Disney, if you gain or lose enough weight, the fit of your prosthetic could change. There’s always the possibility that your device could break. You may wish to have your local practitioner find you an Orlando area contact in case you need repairs or support during your trip.
New Prosthetics: If you’re using a lower extremity prosthetic, remember that Disney is huge. We spoke to one man who wore a fairly new prosthetic on his Disney trip, and walked the parks. By the end of his visit his skin was raw. It might not be a good idea to break in a device during your trip. If your device is on the newer side, consider using a wheelchair or scooter, and remember that you don’t always have to stay in it. You can park it and walk when you want to.
For more information on managing at Disney with mobility issues, visit our Mobility page here.
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