Special Needs at WDW: Tips for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

Oscar winning Deaf actress Marlee Matlin has often said, “the only thing Deaf people can’t do is hear” and she proves it everyday. The sights and sounds of Walt Disney World aren’t only for hearing people, the Deaf and hard of hearing can experience all that Walt Disney World has to offer through a variety of communication devices.

If you have a family member who is Deaf or hard of hearing and haven’t experienced Disney destinations because of it, this should help you understand what Disney has to offer so you and your family can make the most of your magical vacation.

There are many mis-conceptions about what Deaf and hard of hearing people can do and not do, and what they can enjoy, and i’m sure there’s plenty of debate about whether a Walt Disney World vacation is “worth it” if someone in your travel party has hearing issues. As a student of American Sign Language and a person with Deaf friends, I won’t attempt to answer all the questions that us ignorant hearing people have; but I will tell you that Walt Disney World is a place that makes sure EVERYONE’s experience is as magical as it can be, whether you can hear or not.

Major experiences in Walt Disney World include the attractions and the stage shows. They are often everyone’s favorite parts of the trip and there’s no reason everyone can’t enjoy them. The first stop you should make at the parks is Guest Relations, this is where you can get information and pick up most of your hearing assistive devices. Some require a refundable deposit and for the device to be returned same day. You can also receive schedules of Sign Language interpreted performances in the parks that week.

At the entrance of attractions and shows ask a cast member for a guest assistance packet. This includes things like a flashlight, pen and paper, and dialogue and narrations for the attractions within the park. Have patience, it may take a minute for the cast member to locate what you need but at least you will have those resources as a back up if all other communication fails.

Basic communication needs are met with amplified headsets on pay phones, assistive listening devices (which require a $25 refundable deposit if returned same day) and TTY locations for information and to book your vacation (407-827-5141) or to request an interpreter.

Most theatre shows offer reflective captioning, ask a cast member for the device and for early entrance into the show to set up your captioning device properly. Reflective captioning allows you to attach a plexiglass sort of device to a chair in front of you that will reflect the captions from the back wall. It must be situated so that you can view the stage and see the words at the base of the stage. Shows with 3-D glasses may make the captions difficult to read.

Handheld Captioning Units-These are wireless devices that give you a written version of scripts for certain attractions. These devices require a $100 refundable deposit, but have no other charge. Pick up your unit at Guest Services in your park; but if you are park hopping, your HCU can’t. You’ll have to turn it in and pick up another one at your next park. These units also serve as closed captioning activators for some attractions, if you are within 20 feet of the screen this function will work.

Video Captioning and Closed Captioning-This remote requires a $25 refundable deposit and will activate closed captioning on tv monitors for attractions (like the pre-shows in the queue).

ASL Interpreters are available for live shows on a rotating basis. Schedules for interpreters vary from week to week to ask Guest Relations in the park (or your lobby concierge) for an up-to-date schedule. If you would like to request free sign language interpretation for other live entertainment (such as Candlelight Processional) call 407-824-4321 or TTY 407-827-5141 at least two weeks in advance.

Look for cast members with the “ASL” symbol on their name tag, these cast members are trained in sign language.

When you’re ready to end your time in the parks, your Disney resort also offers “Room Communication Kits” that include:

  • Door knock and phone alerts
  • Bed shaker alarm
  • TTY (text typewriter)
  • Strobe light fire alarm
  • Phone amplifier

If you’re making your reservation online, there is a box to check if you need a room communication kit, if you are using a travel agent, let them know and they can note it on the reservation for you. While most travel arrangements can be made online and much agent-client communication is done via e-mail having someone who understands YOUR first language is a huge asset. American Sign Language and verbal speech don’t have the same subject/verb sentence structure and can be confusing for someone who isn’t trained in ASL and frustrating for you, the Deaf client. If you have questions about Disney travel, need more information about the services available for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in the parks or would like a free quote, feel free to contact me.

There’s plenty of magic in Disney parks for everyone, including the Deaf and hard of hearing, remember…the only thing a Deaf person can’t do is hear.


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Chip and Co Past Writers and Friends
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