Get Disney's free Guidebooks for Guests With Disabilities in advance for information on wheelchair accessibility, Braille guides, and much more (407-934-7639 or 407-827-5141 [TTY], www.disneyworld.com). Special-needs visitors get easy access to ride loading areas. (For hidden disabilities, go to guest relations for a special-assistance pass at the first park you visit.)
Where to Stay
Though most area hotels offer handicapped-accessible rooms, Disney's hotels, including the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge also have pools where wheelchairs can be rolled right in; from $200 to $800 per night. Disney's Fort Wilderness campgrounds feature fully equipped cabins from $229 to $329 per night (407-939- 7807 or 407-939-7670 [TTY], www.disneyworld.com). For complex health needs, Accessible Journeys creates packages that include lodging in vacation homes, a wheelchair-accessible van, and medical equipment (800-846-4537, www.accessiblejourneys.com).
Rides that are especially wheelchair-friendly: Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris; Magic Kingdom's The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Walt Disney World Railroad (a shortcut to Frontierland and Mickey's Toontown Fair), and Jungle Cruise, which has an assisted-listening system. If a water park is on your agenda, make it Blizzard Beach, where wheelchairs can be rolled into the shallow Tike's Peak Wading Pool or the rowdier Melt Away Bay wave pool.
At peak times, Disney's counter-service restaurants can be difficult to maneuver with wheelchairs, so eat early or late. All full-service restaurants in Disney World accommodate dietary requests with 24-hour notice (call 407-939-3463). Choose the Mama Melrose or The Hollywood Brown Derby in Disney-MGM Studios or Epcot's Akershus or Tangerine Cafe; these may be less crowded at peak times.
Determine in advance which wild rides are most appropriate for your special-needs child, so he or she isn't disappointed. Some -- like Space Mountain (where kids ride individually) and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (which flips upside down three times) -- might be impossible. Instead, consider Test Track or Splash Mountain, where you can hold your child as you ride.
Words of Wisdom
"Some rides require that you take your child out of the wheelchair," says Nancy Hughes, of Bloomington, Indiana, a foster mom of several special-needs kids. "Disney employees aren't allowed to assist with that, so be prepared to carry your child to the ride when necessary."