Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Theme parks and my wheelchair

There's a picture of me from when I was about 19. With a terrified look on my face I'm falling down the Splash Mountain waterfall. I didn't know that the wooden boat had grab bars on the both sides for me to hold on to, so I'm reaching out for whatever element that was sticking out in the front. Right behind me, my brother's then fiancĂ©e holding on to me so I wouldn't fall out, a bit in the back my cousin, Robert, cool, calm and collected, with a video camera on his arm. The picture is one of the few souvenirs from my first visit to America. I was just accepted to the law program at Warsaw University and as a graduation gift of sorts, my parents sent me with my brother and his girlfriend to go visit my cousin who moved to Las Vegas a few years later. California was just a few hours of a drive away, and we decided the one thing we all needed to do as a family is go to Disneyland. I wouldn't be able to do anything fun if it wasn't for the fact that I had people to help me. And I'm not even talking about attractions marked specifically as not for people with disabilities because I understood them as off limits. I needed help transferring in and out of rides. I can stand and take a few steps, but someone has to assist me with an arm to lean on. There practically was no heavy lifting involved but I could not have done it myself. The theme park workers may not  and are instructed not to help, which is understandable as it can turn into a big liability issue had something happened. An idea not too far fetched, given that these theme parks get sued for something every now and again. I only wish that an operation as big as Disney, given its prestige and not to mention, price of admission, had qualified staff, like nurses- to assist patrons with special needs to help them get most out of what many consider out of the lifetime experience. How about carts you can secure a wheelchair user in? I was fine with all of this transfer in and out business, given my back then pretty high mobility level, but after a while even I was tired. Back then, wheelchair users didn't have to wait in lines, something I believe Disney had since got rid off, but for my entire family then it was the benefit of having wheelchair around. At least they gave us that. We didn't have to wait. Six years later I  was in America again. My Florida school adventure was about to start in a month, so my parents and I decided to go to Universal theme park. When we got there, the multiple day pass we bought at our hotel turned out to be already used. The park decided to make it up to us by giving us more tickets to use at a later day. This allowed me to treat my new roommate to a day of rollercoasters. But the experience was pretty much the same-  transferring in, transferring out, I would have not been able to do anything without my parents there. We were allowed to enter rides  without waiting, but at the paste we were going through things, half way through the day, we were out of new things to explore. At the time I was pretty much used to someone helping me to get around, so I didn't think much about it. If anything, I was just grateful to be there. But now I think about it more. I wonder: what can be done to make the theme park experience more wheelchair friendly? What do other patrons with disability do? What both horror stories and the positive feedback must be out there to share and learn from?

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