Travel can be a hassle for people without disabilities — imagine the challenges of traveling with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990, with all businesses requiring compliance by January 26, 1992. Since then, Florida has come a long way to extend a warm welcome to people with special needs. From transportation to hotels and attractions to beaches, the Sunshine State gets high marks from the disabled for its access and availability of special equipment as follows:
- Special parking by permit is set aside at every establishment. Even out-of-state vehicles displaying disability parking permits issued by another state are allowed to park in spaces designated for persons with disabilities.
- Wheelchair accessible restrooms and telephones should be conveniently located within easy reach of wheelchair guests.
- Florida state law and the ADA requires guide dogs be permitted in all establishments, this, of course, includes the attractions (although some ride restrictions may apply).
- TDD is commonly available by dialing 711 via the Florida Relay Service.
The possibilities for travel within Florida are limitless for the special needs traveler. Attractions, beaches, camping, cruises, hotels, resorts, restaurants, and state parks all provide access for the disabled and special-needs visitor.
This guide is intended to provide resources and links to travel planning information for the disabled and special needs traveler to Florida. Whatever your special need — wheelchair access, special transportation, TDD (Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf), signers, interpreters, or special medical equipment — it is best to plan ahead. Ask plenty of questions and always make your requests and reservations well in advance.
No vacation to Florida is complete without a trip to the beach. The state boasts more than 1,200 miles of coastline to explore; however, conventional wheelchairs, with their thin wheels, do not work very well on the sand. Enter the all-terrain specially adapted wheelchair — with thick plastic wheels — that can take you where you want to go.
Several Florida beaches make these specially adapted wheelchairs available, so you'll never have to feel stranded again. That is the good news. The bad news is there seems to be little information regarding which beaches actually have equipment available and accessible wheelchair ramps. It is best to check with your hotel in advance when making reservations.
Try one of these designers/distributors if you are interested in purchasing or renting an all-terrain wheelchair:
- De-Bug Beach Wheelchair - Several beaches and park locations are listed in Florida for rental or purchase of this Deming designed wheelchair.
- The Landeez - This all-terrain wheelchair allows the disabled to come closer to nature. These are found at many Florida beaches and hotels/resorts.
County, State, and National Parks
Each of Florida's counties has parks (some even have beaches) that are accessible to visitors with limited mobility. Some even offer special wheelchair rentals. ParkMaps.com has a handy list of links to park locations and further information for each of Florida's counties.
Many of Florida's State Parks offer handicap accessibility. Here you will find a directory of park facilities and programs for the special needs visitor.
- Accessible Fishing Piers
- Accessible Trails
- Boat Tours
At Florida's State Parks, if you are 100% disabled, you are eligible for half-off the base RV or tent site camping fee.
Florida's National Parks have various access and services for special needs. These links take you to the basic information for each park where you can scroll down and find the accessibility information.
- Big Cypress National Preserve (Ochopee)
- Biscayne National Park (near Miami)
- Canaveral National Seashore (Titusville)
- Castillo De San Marcos National Monument (St. Augustine)
- DeSoto National Memorial (Bradenton)
- Dry Tortugas National Park (Key West)
- Everglades National Park (near Miami)
- Fort Caroline National Memorial (Jacksonville)
- Fort Matanzas National Monument (St. Augustine)
- Gulf Islands National Seashore (Pensacola/Gulf Breeze)
- Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve (Jacksonville)
Florida's theme parks want to make sure everyone has a wonderful time. Helpful information about identifying important facilities and how best to navigate through the parks are contained within guidebooks published by most of the theme parks for the disabled traveler. Those with Internet access will find websites contain very useful information.
All the theme parks provide special parking facilities and out-of-state vehicles displaying disability parking permits issued by another state are allowed to park in spaces designated for persons with disabilities. Wheelchair accessible restrooms and telephones are conveniently located within easy reach of wheelchair guests. TDD is commonly available. First aid stations and medical personnel are available at all the large theme parks.
Ride policies differ from park to park. Florida state law and the ADA requires guide dogs be permitted in all establishments. This, of course, includes the attractions (although some ride restrictions may apply). Many exhibits and rides have side doors for guests who cannot wait in long lines.
Disney World Wheelchair Access
Disney gets especially high marks from visitors with disabilities. In true Disney fashion, they pay close attention to details that will make people with special needs especially comfortable.
Here are facts, guidelines, and a few tips for the disabled guest:
- Special parking is available for guests at all four theme parks and all Disney World Resort hotels. Ask for directions at the entrances.
- Valet parking is available at Downtown Disney and is free for guests with disabilities.
- WDW Monorail stations are accessible to wheelchairs.
- Access to the Magic Kingdom is available by either ferry or monorail.
- Wheelchairs are available for rent at all theme parks.
- Electric Convenience Vehicles are also available for rent.
- Consult Disney's Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities for details about wheelchair access to attractions, or check with the ride host or hostess. Most attractions are accessible to guests who can be lifted from chairs with assistance from a member of their party. Many can accommodate guests who must remain in their wheelchairs.
- Disney allows guide animals to ride on some attractions.
- Designated "animal break areas" are located throughout the parks, and each park has personnel available to assist you with your animal.
- All WDW hotels have accommodations for guests with disabilities, including roll-in showers and "zero-entry" pools with special wheelchairs available. Be sure to ask for Special Reservations Department.
You may pick up a copy of the Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities at the wheelchair rental locations in each theme park. To get a copy in advance, visit WDW's website at www.disneyworld.com or write to Walt Disney World Guest Communications, Box 10000, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830.
Disney World Visual and Hearing Access
Disney offers services for both visual and hearing disabilities.
A tape recorder with a cassette that describes each park is available for a refundable deposit. Also, a Braille guidebook is available for a refundable deposit.
- Pay phones with text typewriters (TTYs) are available throughout WDW.
- Sign language is available for some shows. Arrangements must be made two weeks in advance.
- Listening devices that amplify attraction soundtracks are available at City Hall in the Magic Kingdom, and at Guest Relations in the other theme parks. A refundable deposit is required. Park guide maps will indicate the participating attractions.
- Written scripts are available at many attractions and shows. Ask a Disney employee for assistance.
- Reflective and video captioning devices are available at some attractions. Consult park guide maps for indication of participating attractions.
SeaWorld and Universal Orlando Access
Both SeaWorld and Universal Studios offer services for guests with disabilities and special needs.
SeaWorld Orlando offers a special seating in every theater and several stadiums have special entrances. Guests with guide dogs should use the same procedures as wheelchair guests. Water is available for companion dogs at any restaurant location.
There are assisted restrooms and telephones equipped with amplified handsets. Wheelchairs can be rented for a nominal fee and a limited number of electric wheelchairs are available for rent on a first come, first served basis.
Universal Studios Orlando
Universal Studios Orlando provides a special Disabled Guest Parking Pass to be displayed on your dashboard for parking in the special disabled guest parking area. Regular wheelchairs and electric convenience vehicles are available in limited quantities on a first-come, first-served basis.
Guests with hearing impairments can obtain TDDs at the Guest Services Office or Health Services. You will need to call (407-224-4233) in advance to make arrangements for an interpreter.
Other Attractions Access
Busch Gardens and Kennedy Space Center offer services for guests with disabilities and special needs.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Parking spaces for those vehicles with a valid handicap permit are provided directly in front of the park's main entrance. A special needs access guide is available at the Guest Relations near the main entrance and companion bathrooms are located throughout the park.
Wheelchair and motorized cart rentals are available on a limited basis. Although the entire park is accessible by wheelchair, some physically challenged guests may not be able to experience certain rides due to safety considerations.
Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center won't keep anyone from reaching for the stars. Visitor guides are available in alternative formats, including Braille, large print and audio tape. American sign language interpreters are available for KSC tours and presentations. Advance reservations are advised. Many of the tour buses are equipped with wheelchair accessible lifts to accommodate wheelchair users, and a separate van is available for those who require special assistance. Complimentary wheelchairs are available at the Visitor Complex and each of the tour destination.
Equipment and Vehicle Rentals
Those with disabilities may find themselves in a position to need equipment rental or repair while on vacation. Although this list is not exhaustive, it does give information on some of the larger and more traveled areas of Florida.
- Accessible Vans of America - Orlando & More
Rentals of accessible vans covering Fort Myers, Pompano Beach and Miami. (Toll Free: 1-800-862-7475)
- Action Disability Resources - Jacksonville
Wheelchair accessible rental mini-vans by the day, week, or month. (Toll Free: 1-888-316-2648)
- Amigo Mobility Center - Sarasota
Rentals, repairs, parts and sales. (Toll Free: 1-800-783-2644)
- CARE Medical Equipment - Orlando
Rentals, repairs, parts and sales of manual and motorized wheelchairs and lifts. Also, providers of medical equipment including oxygen. (Toll Free: 1-800-741-2282)
- Randle Medical Sales and Rentals - Miami
Full line of medical equipment rentals and sales. (Toll Free: 1-800-753-1222)
- Randy's Mobility - Orlando
Rental of manual and motorized wheelchairs. (Phone: 863-679-1550)
- Walker Medical and Mobility - Orlando
Full service medical equipment rentals. (Toll Free: 1-888-SCOOTER)
- Wheelchair Vans of America - Clermont
Rentals of accessible vans covering Central Florida. (Toll-Free: 1-800-910-VANS)