Florida's fun for the disabled
Miss Wheelchair Florida 1999, Christina Martin at SeaWorld. Visit her website at http://www.alcoholfreekids.com.
To read her story, click here
Related Story: The Guide Dogs of Palmetto, Florida


By Susan Revello

raveling can be a hassle for people without disabilities. Imagine the challenges of planning a vacation
for those with disabilities. Miss Wheelchair Florida 1999 Christina Martin, age 27, severed her spinal cord nine years ago in a car accident. She has been in a power chair ever since. "I have traveled to many states since my accident and I think Florida does a very good job in accommodating people with disabilities. The parks in Central Florida are really great. I know that when I go there things will be taken care of," says Christina, a Bradenton resident. She recently had a wonderful experience at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay where she described how the lifts for the train around the park were simple and quiet. However she added with a smile, "My favorite place is Universal."

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.

"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"


<-- More Absolutely Florida

When taking a holiday with a disabled family member, many things need to be taken into account. For example, disabled access, travel and activities while there all need to be arranged ahead of time to ensure a smooth trip. The cruise industry is particularly forward thinking when it comes to disabled passengers wheelchair ramps, mobility scooters and helpful crew can all be provided to make sure your holiday goes without a hitch. Research ahead of time to ensure your cruise does indeed include these vital elements so that you can relax on your holiday. For more advice on cruises for disabled travelers, visit this guide.

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.

Walt Disney World has ample wheelchair facilties, special signage, assistive listening devices and extra personnel to help visitors with disabilities.
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.

SeaWorld provides special seating and special entrances.
Guide animals are able to actually ride on some Disney attractions. There are designated animal "break areas" located throughout the parks. Each park has personnel available to assist you with your animal.

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.

Kennedy Space Center goes all out for disabled visitors - with special services, tours and programs.
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.

Specially designed beach-going wheelchairs make enjoying Florida's beautiful coastline a breeze.
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!

Many Florida B&Bs cater to the disabled.
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.

The Little River Inn Bed & Breakfast in New Smyrna Beach has an arrangement with the Bert Fish Medical Center to provide accommodation for patients receiving medical care. The Library Room at the inn properly accommodates people with disabilities. The room contains one king-size bed for the patient and a daybed for intended for a family member or the patient's care giver. There also is an in-room refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker. The house's living room and dining room are also accessible.

My Cousin's Place in St. Pete Beach is a small B&B run by a nurse. Located directly on the beach, she specializes in hosting people who are recovering from surgeries. They are also happy to work with people with disabilities.

Thebeautiful Lee Island Coast in southwest Florida has published its own Accessibility Guide, which is also available on cassette. This area is comprised of Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Fort Myers Beach, Pine Island, Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island, Cayo Costo State Island Preserve and North Captiva Island and Lehigh Acres. Call 800/533-4753 x 477 for your copy.

Most major car rental companies, with advance notice, will provide hand-controlled cars. Some companies require 24 hours, while others need 48 hours. It is best to make your reservation as far in advance as possible.

One of only two RV dealerships in the country who offer customized RVs for the disabled, is
  Specially equipped motor homes and vans offer more freedom for your travel choices

found in Florida. Ft. Lauderdale-based Palm RV's Specialty Vehicles Division modifies motor homes from major manufacturers to meet the specific needs of people with disabilities. In the case of paralyzed Veteran James McKnight of Miami, those modifications included everything from head controls for driving, to a wheelchair lift, a customized bed, to commode and shower facilities. All modifications were done after meeting with James to evaluate his individual needs. A Preferred Care Roadside Assistance Program is free for the first year of ownership where support can be found from 350 dealers around the country.

In addition to customizing RVs, there is a 30-foot A Class RV for rent equipped with a UVL lift, tie down with harness, roll-in shower and two double beds. This vehicle is available for rent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Anyone interested in the purchase or rental of an RV should call Richard Demers at 954/584-1910 .

Florida's flat landscape and abundance of diverse activities make it a marvelous vacation destination for everyone, including those with disabilities. Southern hospitality and sunshine abound here all year. Hope to see you soon!

Susan Revello is a free-lance writer in Orlando, who has lived throughout the state of Florida. She serves as a contributing editor to Corporate & Incentive Travel magazine.