How accessible is Disney World for guests who use a wheelchair? We put it to the test

Everything you need to know about getting around Walt Disney World in a wheelchair, starting from the moment you land.
Skyliner with Disney's Art of Animation Resort in the background (Photo: David Roark)
Skyliner with Disney's Art of Animation Resort in the background (Photo: David Roark)

Disney World’s four theme parks are so well-known for their inclusivity that Disney trips are often among the top wishes of children with critical illnesses. Attractions in and around Walt Disney World are not only accessible to guests using mobility aids (walkers, wheelchairs, and motorized devices) but also to those with cognitive impairments and visual or auditory limitations.

These accommodations make Disney World an outstanding destination for multigenerational groups, and one of the reasons my family returns again and again. My wife Dana currently uses a wheelchair due to her multiple sclerosis, so when we took our first post-pandemic trip back to Disney this year, we decided to see just what an accessible vacation at “The Most Magical Place On Earth” would actually be like. The verdict: It’s still pretty magical.

Here’s what you should know about getting around Walt Disney World in a wheelchair, starting from the moment you land.

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Accessibility at Orlando International Airport

Living in upstate New York, we often fly nonstop into Orlando from our local airport in Rochester to minimize time on airplanes. Orlando International Airport is one of the busiest in the world, but also one that travelers with special needs can navigate easily.

The airport has three different terminals. After your airplane lands, an automated people mover takes you to the main terminal. This tram is roll-on/roll-off for those using wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Moving walkways and escalators help minimize walking distances throughout the airport elevators, and there are also visual paging systems, companion care restrooms, adult changing tables, and service animal relief areas to assist with accessibility.

An accessibility map of the airport is available to identify all services ahead of time.  Orlando International Airport also participates in the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program, allowing guests with a hidden disability to wear a sunflower lanyard to self-identify as someone who may need additional assistance passing through the terminal.

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Accessibility within the Disney Theme Parks in Orlando

Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom each have individual guides for guests with disabilities. These theme park guides give specific information about accessible entrances, mobility requirements, sign language, captioning, audio descriptions, locations of companion restrooms, and more.

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Visitors can look through these guides ahead of time by downloading them from Walt Disney World’s website. Visitors with any impairments, including those on the autism spectrum, can make use of break areas throughout the parks to get away from sensory stimulation. 

For our trip, we utilized the Disney World app to find attractions my wife could enjoy while staying in her wheelchair. We did this by filtering rides by park and mobility accessibility, selecting “may remain in wheelchair/ECV” to see which ones would work for our family. We quickly discovered we also needed to select “must transfer to wheelchair” to see the full list of attractions Dana could ride.

Not surprisingly, most of the high-speed thrill rides were off-limits to those in a wheelchair, including newer rides like TRON Lightcycle/Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Still, we found more attractions than we expected where Dana could stay in her wheelchair, including some of our favorites such Jungle Cruise and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in the Magic Kingdom, Toy Story Mania! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the new Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in EPCOT.

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Unfortunately, aside from Kilimanjaro Safaris, there were very few rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom where Dana could stay in her wheelchair (although there were shows and animals to watch). As a family of Star Wars fans, we were most disappointed to discover that neither of the two attractions in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge accommodated someone who needed to stay in a wheelchair. This surprised us since the land just opened in 2019.

In addition to using the Disney World app to find attractions that accommodate your needs, Disney also offers the Disability Access Service (DAS) to assist visitors who cannot wait for extended periods in a conventional queue due to their disability. Disney recently announced changes coming to DAS, and it will only assist guests with developmental disabilities, like autism. Guests who qualify can register ahead of time for DAS via a live video chat between 30 and two days prior to arrival at the park.

You then set a reservation time for an experience on the day of your theme park visit, and enjoy other aspects of the park until you can redeem your return time at the attraction. Once that return time has been redeemed, you can then request another one. This type of “virtual queuing” has become commonplace in the theme park industry. 

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My wife’s mobility limitations will now no longer qualify for DAS as she can wait in line while sitting in her wheelchair. On our most recent visit, it turned out she never needed the DAS anyhow and we navigated the theme parks just fine using the Disney World app. However, because heat also exacerbates her symptoms, she may sometimes be unable to wait in the Florida heat even while sitting in her chair.

Accessibility at Walt Disney World Resort hotels

Disney World has a wide range of hotels of various points and amenities. When planning your Disney World vacation, consider what park is your highest priority to visit. For many families, it’s Magic Kingdom, the quintessential Disney World theme park. Thus, one of the monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian Village, or Grand Floridian) would offer the most convenience to that park. However, Star Wars fans might want to stay closer to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, making Disney’s Boardwalk a good choice. 

My family loves Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. The Polynesian Village has smaller separate buildings, with wide, flat outdoor pathways. Accessible rooms on the first floor have a wheelchair-friendly door where you can roll out to the patio and enjoy those nice Florida breezes. Approximately 10 percent of the rooms at this resort are accessible, some with roll-in showers. The Polynesian also has a number of our favorite restaurants, including Kona Cafe (famous for its Tonga Toast) and ‘Ohana, with its all-you-can-eat family-style Hawaiian dinner.

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Disney’s Polynesian is a short monorail ride to the Magic Kingdom right from the second floor of the hotel lobby (an elevator is available for those in wheelchairs). A short stroll along a wheelchair-accessible path will get you to the EPCOT monorail station. Accessible bus transportation is also provided from the resort to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. 

On our most recent trip, we stayed at Disney’s Riviera Resort, a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) property in between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Skyliner gondola station is a perk of Disney’s Riviera Resort. My wife could roll her wheelchair right into an aerial cable car to head to one of the two theme parks.

The larger one-bedroom wheelchair-accessible DVC villa also provided more space to maneuver a wheelchair and walker after we rearranged some of the furniture. In addition to the extra space of the DVC villa, we discovered some DVC perks that made our stay more accessible, such as special lounges and events. Whatever Disney resort your family chooses, visit the official Walt Disney World website to make sure the room has the specific accommodations you need.

Our recent trip to Disney World in a wheelchair was not without difficulties, but any family trip will present challenges along the way. Disney scores high marks for its commitment to making the parks accessible. As Disney World creates new attractions, I hope they continue to find ways to make those experiences available for all family members to enjoy. 

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Dave Parfitt
Dave Parfitt is a freelance travel writer interested in illuminating transformative family travel, multi-generational travel, inclusive and accessible travel, under-the-radar destinations, and immersive, authentic experiences. Dave's work has appeared in Lonely Planet, AAA, Fox News Travel, US News & World Report, FamilyVacationist, TravelAge West, USA Today, and Family Circle, to name a few. An academic with a PhD in neuroscience, Dave also works as an educational developer at a four-year college in Western New York when not in a theme park, national park, or on a cruise or road trip with his family.