There is a reason my son is 16 and has never been on a plane, and that reason is me, the mom. I’ve not been afraid, or nervous, I’ve just been too darn lazy! The idea alone of prepping and packing for disability travel gives me such a headache.

The stress of accessible travel

Up until now we have only taken road trips. So much stuff. We do not travel light.

Feeding supplies like pouches of pureed food, the feeding pump and bags, the blender; incontinence supplies, including briefs, pads, and bed pads; body brace; nebulizer and all of its accoutrements, just in case; cpap machine and supplies, which fortunately comes with its own handy dandy carrying case, but still…so much easier to just throw everything into the car.

We’re going to Disney World!

But, being part of a Disney-crazed family, this trip was inevitable, and I finally felt mentally ready to take it on. I had no anxiety about actually traveling or the trip itself; it was really just the packing. Luckily I had my friend Amy from to guide me through both packing and the parks. It so happens that Disability Travel and Disney are her specialties!

Lessons in accessible travel

Once I got everything organized and packed, I was pretty proud of myself. With allowances for medical supplies we would not have to pay for the two extra suitcases. Our ride arrived and…the vehicle was too small. Um, we had a lot more bags than expected, plus the folding wheelchair. We eventually convinced our driver (who we knew, than goodness) to drive my accessible vehicle, which was also packed pretty tight but at least Harry could stay in his chair.

Lesson 1: Make sure everything will fit in the vehicle if you hire a driver.

I also signed up for TSA Cares, not even knowing what that meant. Who the heck is calling me at 4:30 am while we are getting ready to leave for the airport??? Well, it was this lovely woman saying she would be waiting for us and escorting us through security right to our gate. Nice…what a pleasant surprise, and one less thing to worry about.

Lesson 2: Sign up for TSA Cares before you travel, and make sure to sign up again for the return flight home so you don’t have to go searching for assistance with 7 suitcases and a wheelchair while your partner is returning the rental car. And take advantage of those $7 luggage carts!

Flying while disabled

It really wasn’t that bad. Granted, we did have front row seats, and of course we got to board early. Harrison was awake from all of the excitement, but he quickly drifted back to sleep once he was settled into the seat. Sitting in that seat…that did worry me a little. Ideally the plane would have a 5 point harness for any passengers who need that trunk support, but we got him buckled in, reclined the seat, and all was good.

First Flight

Vacationing while disabled

We arrived at our hotel, and we were ready to begin our first Disney vacation as a family. Big sister was joining us the next day, and big brother would join us for some of the trip as well- nothing makes my kid happier than being with his siblings!

Ready for disability travel. A teenager in a wheelchair smiling as he arrives at the Disney hotel
Let the vacation begin!

What we did not expect, however, was the necessary recovery time.

Harrison’s seizures are mostly triggered by fatigue. And even though he did not lift a finger and snoozed the whole flight, his sleep was interrupted with the early departure, and it literally took him two days to bounce back. Soon after we checked in, we were off to the Magic Kingdom, about a 10 minute walk away. We went to or first attraction. He loved the darkened theater, giggled at the activity on the screen for about 10 minutes, and then he had a seizure and slept the rest of the day.

Day 2 was a visit to Animal Kingdom. It was hot. We don’t do well in the heat. The safari ride was wheelchair accessible, but it didn’t matter because the day consisted of either seizures or sleeping. I’m not gonna lie, I was getting very depressed that this was how our entire week was going to play out.

Lessons 3 and 4: Plan for a rest day after traveling. Spend the days at indoor rides and attractions, where there is air conditioning, and enjoy the rest of the parks in the evening when the sun goes down and, bonus, fireworks, if you like that sort of thing!

Cinderella's castle lit up blue at night at Disney World
Cinderella’s Castle at night

The power of siblings

Hold on, it’s going to be fine, momma. The big kids showed up Monday evening and, what do you know, someone finally perked up! Now we could start our vacation!

Accessible Disney!

Disney World is known for their efforts to be disability-friendly and very accessible, and I gotta tell you, they do a pretty impressive job.

The Disability Access Pass gave us a “return-time” for whatever rides and attractions we wanted to do. Being married to a Disney connoisseur, I really didn’t have to worry about that because it seems to work just like the Lightning Lane, which of course we used, where you can get into a quicker line with a reserved time.

What did impress me, tremendously, was the accessibility of some of the actual rides!

Not only do they make it fairly easy to access the line if you have a wheelchair, but many rides have a separate boarding area where you can, if possible, get out of the wheelchair at your own pace and nestle yourself into your seat.

Three siblings, with a disabled teen in the middle being supported by his older siblings with their arms around him
Buzz Lightyear ride, supported, as always, by the two best siblings.

Furthermore, many of the rides have actual ramps- yes!- and you don’t even have to get out of your wheelchair! I was blown away!!

Accessible Disney Jungle River Cruise ride- teenager sleeping in his wheelchair, locked into the boat
Accessible spot on the Jungle River Cruise
Accessible Disney ride Ratatouille- a park attendant locks a wheelchair down into the ride cart
Loading Harry in his wheelchair onto the Ratatouille ride
Accessible Disney- Two brothers riding Toy Story Midway Mania, one of whom is in his wheelchair which is locked down on the cart
The brothers riding the Toy Story Mania ride, wheelchair locked in

Disability Travel Resources

There are lots of resources out there for traveling with someone who is disabled. My favorite bloggers to follow are Curb Free with Cory Lee and My Sandy Trail (by Cory’s mom).

What about Special Needs Photography?

What can I say? When I am on Mom duty, I put the camera down, and I keep my smartphone at the ready. I didn’t expect much from the park photographers, but we did get a few family photos at the important spots. Luckily, Harrison was awake and thrilled as we exited Ratatouille (for the 4th time) so we ran up to the photographer and got the money shot. (Not sure if the whole family wants to be posted here, sorry).

I can tell you, this would be a hard job for me, as a park photographer. I would want to take way too much time to make sure I got the perfect shot for every family. And when someone is not easy to photograph, they might require a lot more time and creativity than what a park photographer can give.

So I’ll just pick the best ones we got and, if necessary, open up photoshop and do a little head swapping if I have to! And if you are looking for a photographer who will take that extra time and care to get the best photos, let’s talk!

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