Most disabilities shouldn't stop anyone from traveling in the U.S. Thanks to provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act, most public places are required to comply with disability-friendly regulations. Almost all public establishments in Orlando (including hotels, restaurants, museums, and so on, but not including certain National Historic Landmarks) and at least some modes of public transportation provide accessible entrances and other facilities for those with disabilities.
Every hotel and motel in Florida is required by law to have a special room or rooms equipped for wheelchairs. A few have wheel-in showers. Disney World's Coronado Springs Resort has 99 rooms designed to accommodate guests with disabilities. Disney's Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts are both particularly well suited to guests who use wheelchairs, as the location of the resorts on the monorail system makes travel to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot a bit easier. Make your special needs known when making reservations. For other information about special Disney rooms, call tel. 407/939-7807.
If you don't mind staying 10 to 15 minutes or so from Disney, check out one of the area's various vacation homes. All Star Vacation Homes (tel. 800/592-5568 or 407/997-0733; www.allstarvacationhomes.com) is one of the best around, offering, among other things, several handicapped-accessible homes that have multiple bedrooms, multiple bathrooms (including accessible showers), full kitchens, and pools. Most cost less than $300 a night and are located in Kissimmee (though you'll find a handful of villas and town houses near I-Drive). Medical Travel Inc. (tel. 800/778-7953; www.medicaltravel.org) is another source of rental homes, plus scooters, vans, and medical equipment. It can satisfy the needs of travelers with disabilities, including those with terminal illnesses, and their families.
Public buses in Orlando have hydraulic lifts and restraining belts for wheelchairs. They serve Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, the shopping areas, and downtown Orlando. Disney shuttle buses accommodate wheelchairs, as do the monorail system and some of the watercraft that travel to the parks and resorts.
If you need to rent a wheelchair or electric scooter for your visit, Walker Medical & Mobility Products (tel. 888/726-6837 or 407/331-9500; www.walkermobility.com) offers delivery to your room of models that fit into Disney's transports and monorails as well as rental cars. CARE Medical Equipment (tel. 800/741-2282 or 407/856-2273; www.caremedicalequipment.com) offers similar services. Disney (tel. 407/934-7639; www.disneyworld.com) offers wheelchair rentals at the parks, at Downtown Disney, and, in more limited numbers, at the resorts. A very limited number of Electric Convenience Vehicle scooters are also available for rent at the parks. Note: Although the Segway is becoming increasingly popular as a mode of transportation for those with disabilities, neither Disney nor SeaWorld permits them inside any of their parks. Universal Orlando does allow them inside its parks. Segways can be rented near the Orange County Convention Center at Orlando Gliders, 8990 International Dr. (tel. 866/611-9398); rates run from $60 (2 hr.) to $125 (a full day).
Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) provides redcap service, wheelchair assistance, and special seats if you give 72 hours' notice. Travelers with disabilities are also entitled to a 15% discount off the lowest available adult coach fare (though they cannot book online). Documentation from a doctor or an ID card proving your disability is required. Amtrak also provides wheelchair-accessible sleeping accommodations on long-distance trains. Service dogs are permitted aboard and travel free. TDD/TTY service is also available at tel. 800/523-6590, or you can write to P.O. Box 7717, Itasca, IL 60143.
Many attractions at the parks, especially the newer ones, are designed to be accessible to a wide variety of guests. People with wheelchairs and their parties are often given preferential treatment so they can avoid lines. The assistance available is outlined in the guide maps you get as you enter the parks. All of the theme parks offer some parking close to the entrances for those with disabilities. Let the parking-booth attendant know your needs, and you'll be directed to the appropriate spot. Wheelchair and electric-cart rentals are available at most major attractions, but you'll be most comfortable in your chair or cart from home if you can bring it. Keep in mind, however, that wheelchairs wider than 2 feet may be difficult to navigate through some attractions. And crowds may make it tough for any guest.
Guests with disabilities should go to Guest Services, located just inside the main entrance, for a Rider's Guide for Rider Safety & Guests with Disabilities, a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), or other special assistance. You can rent a standard wheelchair for $12 or an electric one for $50 (both require a signed rental agreement and a $50 deposit). You can reserve them a week or more in advance by calling tel. 407/224-6350. You can arrange for sign language interpreting services at no charge by calling tel. 888/519-4899 (toll-free TDD), 407/224-4414 (local TDD), or 407/224-5929 (voice). Make arrangements for an appointment with an interpreter 1 to 2 weeks in advance. Information is also available at www.universalorlando.com.
Tip: The Rider's Guide is also a great tool for parents, as it describes in detail the various rides' special effects, warnings, and height requirements, plus general guest services information at both Universal parks.
Note that some of the park's best rides are action-based thrill rides, so your options are limited if you are pregnant, are prone to motion sickness, or have heart, neck, or back problems. The same applies to smaller children. Review the rides and restrictions on the following pages or when you enter the park so that you don't stand in line for something you're unable to enjoy. (There are stationary areas available at some moving rides. Check your park guide under "expectant mothers," as well as the boards in front of each ride, and then ask the attendants for help as you enter.) A child-swap program (allowing parents to switch off on rides without having to stand in line twice) is available at the rides as well.
You can get information online at www.visitorlando.com, the website of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau (Orlando CVB). Wheelchairs On the Go, by Michelle Stigleman and Deborah Van Brunt, is a comprehensive guidebook that lists information on accessibility in Florida, from ground transportation to medical-equipment rentals, accommodations, and attractions. PassPorter's Open Mouse (www.passporter.com/wdw/specialneeds) offers extensive information on accessible travel throughout Walt Disney World and on the Disney Cruise Line.
If you plan on visiting the Canaveral National Seashore as a side trip while in Orlando, know that the America the Beautiful -- National Park and Federal Recreational Lands Pass -- Access Pass (formerly the Golden Access Passport) gives visually impaired people or those with permanent disabilities (regardless of age) free lifetime entrance to federal recreation sites administered by the National Park Service, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation. This may include national parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas, and wildlife refuges. The America the Beautiful Access Pass can be obtained only in person at any NPS facility that charges an entrance fee. You need to show proof of a medically determined disability. Besides free entry, the pass also offers a 50% discount on some federal-use fees charged for facilities such as camping, swimming, parking, boat launching, and tours. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm or call the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which issues the passes, at tel. 888/275-8747.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.