THE SUNSHINE STATE GREETS THE DISABLED TRAVELER WITH A WARM WELCOME
|raveling can be a hassle for people without disabilities. Imagine the challenges of planning a vacation
There is reason for people with disabilities to smile when visiting the Sunshine State. From transportation options to hotels, to attractions to even getting around the beaches, Florida extends a warm welcome for people with special needs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990 with all businesses requiring compliance by Jan. 26, 1992. While the hotel industry got off to a very slow start, the vast majority of hotels in Florida accommodate guests with disabilities. It is best, of course, to plan ahead in reserving the handicapped guest rooms. Recently the 1,014-room Wyndham Palace Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista, FL (on Disney property), hosted a convention for the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf. The resort went the extra mile to ensure the comfort an benjoyment of their facilities by the meeting attendees. This included the installation of Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf ( TDD) phone center, signers and interpreters were positioned at the front desk and the hotel staff was aware of the rooms occupied by hearing impaired guests.
Last year the American Council of the Blind held its annual convention at the Clarion Plaza Hotel in Orlando. More than 2,000 people attended the event, as did 300 seeing eye dogs. Housekeepers knew to keep the guest's items in the same place and Braille and large print menus were available in all the restaurants. The event was very successful and the group plans to come back to Florida.
Indeed Central Florida, the theme park capital of the world, gets very high marks for making sure all park guests have a wonderful time! Most of the major theme parks publish guide books for the disabled traveler with helpful information about how to best navigate through the parks and identifying important facilities. For people with access to the Internet, web sites contain very useful information.
All the parks have disabled parking facilities and wheelchair accessible restrooms. Ride policies differ from park to park. Florida state law requires guide dogs be permitted in all establishments, this of course includes the attractions. Out-of-state vehicles displaying disability parking permits/plates issued by another state are allowed to park in spaces designated for persons with disabilities.
Many exhibits and rides have side doors for guests who cannot wait in long lines, like Christina Martin. "I don't sweat as a result of my injury and I can easily overheat. The side door entrances marked with a disabled symbol enable me to experience the attraction," observed Christina.
Telephones located within easy grasp of wheelchair guests is another commonality among the parks, in addition to (TDD). First aid stations and medical personnel are available at all the large theme parks.
Universal Studios Florida provides a Disabled Guest Parking Pass to be displayed on your dashboard for parking in the Disabled Guest Parking Area. Wheelchairs or electric convenience vehicles are available in limited quantities for rent on a first-come, first-served basis, located in the Parking and Transportation Center.
Assisted listening devices and tour information scripts, which include descriptions of all attractions, are available at Guest Services and at the restrooms located near Kongfrontation and the Boulangerie restaurant. Companion tours are available through Guest Services at no charge by calling 48 hours prior to your visit.
Portable cassette players with information about all of the rides, shows, restaurants, and merchandise locations are available for loan at no charge at Guest Services.
Since the four-legged guests cannot actually ride at Universal, portable kennels are available for your animals.
The Magic Kingdom makes sure that all of its theme parks are enjoyed by everyone who visits. Designated parking areas for guests with disabilities are available throughout the parks. Disney features a useful system of symbols to help its disabled guests. These symbols include a wheelchair to indicate that people can remain in their own wheelchairs to experience the attraction, another sign indicating that they must transfer from their wheelchair to board the attraction, another sign communicates they must transfer to an available wheelchair, assistive-listening devices which amplify the audio, a reflective captioning system and also video captioning.
For a delightful break from the hustle and bustle of the larger parks, Sea World is a great choice. SeaWorld Orlando has wheelchairs for rent for a nominal fee with a limited number of electric wheelchairs available for rent on a first come, first serve basis.
The telephones equipped with amplified hand sets are located in the phone bank outside Shamu's Emporium. There are assisted restrooms in the Village Square across from the Polar Parlor, at the main entrance next to Exit Gifts and adjacent to Terrors of the Deep.
Special seating areas are provided in every theater and several stadiums have special entrances. Guests with companion dogs should follow the same procedures as wheelchair guests. Water is available for companion dogs at any restaurant location.
The folks at the Kennedy Space Center Complex on Florida's east coast want everyone to reach for the stars! Dedicated to the disabled visitor, they conduct "Disability Awareness Days". Highlights of the day include a special astronaut briefing in the Universe Theater by astronauts, some of who are personally affected by disabilities; a hands-on learning cart for guests (activities for the blind, etc.); and tables set up with representatives from various disability agencies.
Entrance to the main Visitor Complex grounds for the above activities is free of charge to guests. Visitor guides are available in alternate formats, including Braille, large print and audiotape. Many of the tour buses are equipped with wheelchair accessible lifts to accommodate wheelchair users. Complimentary wheelchairs are available at the Visitor Complex and each of the tour destinations.
Pay telephones equipped with amplification systems and mounted at accessible heights are located throughout the Visitor Complex. A Text Typewriter (TTY) is available inside the main entrance.
Rear Window Reflective Captioning is available for IMAX movies in the Galaxy Center. American sign language interpreters are available to provide interpretation for KSC tours and presentations. Advance reservations are advised for this service.
No trip to Florida is complete without a trip to the beach. The state boasts more than 1,200 miles of coastline. Conventional wheelchairs, with thin wheels, do not work very well on the sand. However, help has arrived in the form of specially designed all-terrain wheelchairs. One model is known as The Landeez. It's designed with thick plastic pneumatic wheels able to make haste over sand or other types of terrain. Light weight (37lbs), easy to disassemble, it can be placed in a car trunk in seconds. The sporty Landeez can be equipped with optional accessories that make using it outdoors more enjoyable, including a colorful beach umbrella, a reading stand, a handy drink holder, and a latch for binoculars.
Several Florida hotels offer Landeez wheelchairs as a free amenity for their guests. Hotels that have at least one Landeez available include:the Radisson Lido Beach Resort in Sarasota, the Sheraton Yankee Clipper and the Sheraton Yankee Trader in Fort Lauderdale; the Lago Mar in Ft. Lauderdale; the Radisson Resort at DeLido Beach; and The Breakers in Palm Beach. Several Disney Cruise lines also offer them for exploration of their island destinations.
New additions to Landeez include a motorized version, manually self-propelled version, and interchangeable street wheels, allowing the chair to be used in indoor public areas. The base price for the chair is around $2,000.
There are other manufacturers of these types of chairs, check with your hotel to inquire if they have any available or if there is a nearby rental place. No trip to Florida would be complete without a visit to the beach!
From St. Augustine to the Keys, there are a number of Bed & Breakfasts that cater to the physically challenged. In St. Augustine, the Casablanca Inn with 10 rooms and 10 suites, is located in the heart of the historic district, convenient to shops, dining and to the river. Nearby Amelia Island has the Amelia House Inn which offers handicap accessible rooms on the first floor.
In Key West, The Frances Street Bottle Inn and the William Anthony House welcome disabled guests. The Audubon House and Tropical Gardens is handicapped accessible through the wheelchair-wide front gate. There is a ramp leading to the first floor of the historic home with the garden paths bricked for easy access. The restrooms are handicapped friendly as is the water fountain. And anyone who cannot climb the stairs is able to view an ward-winning video of the tour in the air-conditioned comfort of the gift shop.