Saturday, November 07, 2009

Disney parks offer special services for their visually impaired guests

After becoming legally blind at age 30, Brenda Woodrum missed seeing the details of one of her favorite Disneyland rides, Pirates of the Caribbean.

So, Woodrum teared up when she heard a description of cannons shooting from pirate ships on the ride using a new listening device that just became available at Disney parks.

“It was really an emotional experience,” said Woodrum, 47, of Fullerton. “I remembered what was there, but sometimes I’d ride it and not know what was there. I had kind of a sense of loss.”

Starting Sunday, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure for the first time began offering hand-held devices that give audio descriptions of scenes in 19 attractions for visually impaired guests.Disney parks are believed to be the first ones to offer such a service, Disney officials said. Knott’s Berry Farm does not have a similar service.


Five devices are available at each Disney park, said Mark Jones, manager of Disney domestic services for guests with disabilities. Guests must give a $100 refundable deposit to use the “audio-description service” devices. In March, Walt Disney World parks began providing the service, now available at 30 locations.

Disney added the audio service to its devices that already provide assistance for guests with hearing disabilities, which were introduced in 2002, Jones said.

Visitors pick up the devices at guest-relations offices at both parks, choosing either two-ear or one-ear headsets.

Upon entering an attraction, the devices trigger emitters within the ride that begin the audio description. It’s designed so that guests should have to do no more than adjust the volume, Jones said.


On the pirates ride, the audio description begins as soon as guests walk in the building and enter the queue.

As the ride starts, the narrator talks about sparkling fireflies, lily pads and a man smoking a pipe. He warns that the boat will plunge down a waterfall. Later, the narrator continues to describe the liquor pouring down a bony frame of a pirate skeleton, Captain Jack Sparrow popping up, a “stout” lady up for sale and the mayor dunking in a well.

The explanation pauses for songs and audio from the story plot.

As a member of a Disney group for disabled employees, Woodrum, a reservation sales agent for Walt Disney Travel Co., gave input about the devices as Disney developed them. The group is called CastABLE.

Woodrum first tried out the devices last year, eventually trying them out on six rides. She gave feedback on the timing of some of the descriptions, but otherwise, she enjoyed them right away.

“It’s an incredible experience,” said Woodrum, who visits Disney parks about once a month. “There’s so much detail there. You get full immersion into the attraction.”

The number of Disneyland Resort guests who have used the devices so far was unavailable Monday.

Disney first hoped to buy already existing devices, Jones said. But when officials couldn’t find what they wanted, Disney engineers designed them in house. They hired an outside manufacturer, Softeq, to put them together. WGBH, a PBS producer, provided the audio content, Jones said. Officials declined to release the cost of the product.

Disney hopes to add the service to other attractions in the future, possibly starting with shows.

Attractions with the service at Disneyland:

  • Enchanted Tiki Room
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • it’s a small world
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Snow White’s Scary Adventures
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats
  • Disneyland Railroad
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • “Honey I Shrunk the Audience” movie

Attractions with the service at Disney’s California Adeventure:

  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Turtle Talk with Crush
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Muppet*Vision 3D


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