This winter marks my first trip to the Universal Orlando Resort. I’m unbelievably excited. Not only will I finally get to see both halves of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but I’ll get to stand where Nickelodeon Studios used to reside. As I prepare to go, I’ve had to research what the parks look like in terms of accessibility. What I found was somewhat troubling.
Universal Orlando’s Rider’s Guide for Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities toes the line between a wealth of information and a document of discouragement. This 48 page PDF has a key with 25 symbols utilized on rides throughout the parks to inform visitors which rides may or may not be for them. The symbols range from ones for motion sickness warnings, to those informing visitors of Closed Captioning availability, to requesting riders with prosthetic limbs to either remove or secure them.
Not only did I want to make sure that I could take on Universal with my conditions, but I wanted to make sure my mom could too. We may have to rent an ECV (Electronic Convenience Vehicle) for her knee while we’re there. The first thing I noticed was that many of the rides require ECV users to either transfer to a manual wheelchair or stand in the queue because of the way the queues are set up. My mom doesn’t always want to go on rides, but I sometimes do. I flare more in the winter and, if my pain levels peak while I’m in Orlando, I may have to use an ECV. If mom doesn’t want to ride something, and she’s in an ECV, that’s fine. However, if I’m in the ECV and want to ride something, I’m concerned about moving to a manual chair. I’m not very familiar with moving myself around in one, so I’d have to rely on my mom or someone else to wheel me through the queue. The other option would be to stand, but that’s not ideal on a high pain day if the queue is long.
Granted, Disney also has this transfer policy, but only on a handful of rides. There seem to be more of Universal’s rides on the manual chair list than not. While it won’t entirely solve the transfer issue, I think my solution would be to either get an Express pass or an Attraction Assistance Pass to limit my wait times.
One thing remained constant during my search for what to expect at Universal: Universal could be more accommodating. I read many negative accounts of people with disabilities having less than magical experiences at Universal. So can Universal be more accommodating? There’s always room for improvement. I don’t think that changing the symbols would work here. Instead, Universal needs to work with those who are disabled to learn which of their rides are most inaccessible and change those rides to make them more accessible. They might also work to ensure their attendants are more understanding. This all takes time and finances, particularly if popular rides are shut down for extended periods of time. However, more first-time disabled visitors are likely to return to the park. Even those who aren’t disabled are more likely to return, especially if someone in their family was strongly impacted by the lack of accessible rides.
My hope when I take a vacation is that it allows me to momentarily forget my limitations, not remind me of them at every turn. I’m chalking part of my shock up to being so new to the concept of using an ECV at parks of this caliber. Perhaps this is normal and I’m blowing it all out of proportion. If it is, I certainly hope the norm is more positive in the future.