Mar 18, 2009

Going to Disneyland?

You're child just had cochlear implant surgery. What are you going to do now? Well, maybe not right away, but sooner or later you may decide: “We’re going to Disneyland!” You might then ask yourself, “What do I need to know about going to Disney for my child with cochlear implants?” As mother to a son with bilateral cochlear implants who has had annual passes to Disneyland his entire life, I thought I should share my experiences. Keep in mind that I have not had personal experience with the entire range of options available to guests with hearing disabilities.

The first two things I would want everyone planning a trip to Disneyland to know are:

1) Disneyland and Disneyworld are two entirely different creatures. The rides may be the same, but the rules and services are not. Do not make assumptions on how your day will go based on the accommodations you received on a trip to Disneyworld.

2) Disneyland wants guests to use mainstream access to rides whenever possible. There is no Guest Assistance Card handed out for hearing disabilities.

On the second note, while Disneyland does not hand out Guest Assistance Cards to guests with hearing disabilities, they do have several aids available. You can see a list of rides and attractions where aids are available on this page of Disneyland’s website.

You can printout a complete guidebook for guests with disabilities.

You can also take advantage of the Fast Pass option for certain rides. This has nothing to do with hearing ability, but if you use the fast passes strategically, you can spend much less time in lines.


The only aid that my son has personally tried out is the handheld captioning device. At the time that we tried it, we went to guest services inside the park and left a $100 deposit. The cast member who gave it to us had no idea how the device worked, but we figured it out easily. It works only on specific rides and at the end of the day; we decided it wasn’t worth the effort to get it or to carry it around. We’ve never used one again. The captions it provided were not in sync with what was heard over the speakers, and hardly any of the words spoken were included in it. It actually made it more confusing for my son.

Other services you can see on the website, reflective captioning and video captioning are on select rides or shows and you need to contact a cast member at the ride to use them. We have not found the need for them at any of the places where they are available, so we’ve never tried them. They seem to mostly be available for pre-show introductions, and truthfully, my kids do not care about the pre-show introductions. Maybe they would be useful for an adult who needs to understand the rules before entering.

One thing I would like to ask about on my next trip to Disneyland is their written aids. They are supposed to have packets containing dialogue and narration for certain attractions and shows. A flashlight and pencil and paper are included with it. There is no list of which rides and shows this is available for on the website. I’m dubious of the use of a flashlight on a ride or during a show, and being able to read the narration without one seems highly unlikely. Flash photography is usually not allowed on rides, and it can be very annoying when people ignore that rule, so I think I would feel self conscious if I had a flashlight and was reading a script in that situation.

The final option for guests with hearing disabilities is American Sign Language interpretation and amplified or TTY equipped phones. Disneyland’s website says to put in a request for ASL interpretation a week prior to your visit if you want it. It seems you will have to follow a predetermined schedule to use it.


Some people have voiced concern over the use of magnetic brakes on some of the rides at Disneyland, and how they might affect a cochlear implant device. Here is the response I received from one Disney Guest Communications Representative regarding this:

“Equipment such as electronic motors and radios that produce electric and magnetic fields are utilized extensively throughout the world and also within our Resort. These fields are generally no greater than you would experience in any urban environment, or may be exposed to through common household appliances such as vacuum cleaners and hair dryers. Although we are unable to give you a list of exact levels for each of our Theme Park attractions, our measurements showed levels below 1 Gauss (0.1/ milliTesla) which are well below the published 5 Gauss (0.5/ milliTesla) level of concern for most medical devices such as pacemakers, cochlear implants, or insulin pumps according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists [1].” The representative also added that a guest should contact their own physician if they have concerns.


First of all, if your child has other issues along with hearing difficulties, you may be eligible for a Guest Assistance Card. If your child is in a wheelchair, that is definitely eligible. If your child has issues such as Autism, they may also be given a pass. Speak to someone at Guest Services and explain your situation. They will make a determination about your needs. With a Guest Assistance Card, you generally wait outside the regular line. There is no guarantee that you will enter the ride faster, but you will avoid either the stairs, or standing next to large numbers of people, etc. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you think you need this service.

As for riding fast or wet rides with a cochlear implant, my son has been on almost all of them and never removed his processors. He has been on Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, The Matterhorn, Tower of Terror, Soarin’ Over California, and Splash Mountain. It is, of course, up to the parent if you want to leave the processor(s) on your child, but I prefer to let my son experience the rides in the way he normally experiences the world, which means hearing with his processors behind his ears. We use toupee tape to hold them on, and I bring a sweatshirt or jacket with a hood for use on these rides. (You could also use a CI retainer like Ear Gear, Critter Clips or Magic Fairy BTE guard barrettes to keep your child's CI processor firmly attached to his or her clothing.) When he was smaller, I would sit behind my son or next to him, depending on the ride, and hold the hood around his head when I saw a drop or sharp turn coming. He does it on his own these days (at age 9). I don’t know that the hood would catch the processor if it fell off, but it makes me feel better. It also keeps the water on Splash Mountain from hitting his processors. On Splash Mountain, my suggestion is to ask to sit in the back. While it doesn’t keep you dry, I have been told it gets the least wet, and so far it’s worked for us. Ask the cast member doing the seating for seats in the back and explain that you need the driest seats possible because of medical equipment issues. Of course you can always remove the device(s). If you plan to do that, I would suggest having a predetermined place to keep them. Some parents carry Otter Boxes for this purpose.

A problem you may encounter with cochlear implants is fountains where children play in the water. Especially during the summer, there are areas where children run around and get wet at Disneyland and California Adventure. It’s good to be aware of that beforehand so you can plan ahead to either avoid them, have a case handy for your devices, or take your chances that your processors are water resistant enough.

Another area of concern that I see is overall noise levels in the park. Will your child be able to hear you? Will it be so loud it annoys him or her? When my son was first implanted, we did turn the volume down at Disneyland because he was still sensitive to sound in general. These days, we don’t do anything different than usual, and even though my son is not the most attentive person in general, he hears us fine. He hears the shows fine too. It seems all seats in the theaters we’ve been to in the parks have good access to sound. There are no special seating assignments for hard of hearing persons.

Finally, since many people might be wondering about meals during their trip, my recommendation is for Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure. It’s moderately priced, relatively quiet, and you get to sit down and be served. Plus it has a children’s menu, and my kids both love it. In Disneyland, my kids prefer the Hungry Bear Restaurant. While less expensive than Wine Country Trattoria, it’s also more work carrying your food to the table and such. The kids like the view of the water from the area though.


Visiting Disneyland is as fun for someone with cochlear implants as it is for anyone else. There are only a few accommodations available for persons hearing through cochlear implants, and there are no Guest Assistance Cards for hearing disabilities. However, based on personal experience, that doesn’t make much of a difference, at least not to a child. Parents need to exercise their own discretion when deciding which rides they want to let their child go on and whether the processor(s) should be left on or taken off, as they do wherever they go. When in doubt about anything on a trip to Disneyland, talk to someone at Guest Services or seek out a cast member at the ride or show you have a question concerning. The information I have provided here is true to the best of my knowledge, but I make no guarantees. Enjoy your trip!

Rhonda Savage

Mom to 12 year old Audrey, hearing; and 9 year old, Neal, first ci at age 2.9, second at age 7.

*All pictures are from when Neal was 3 or 4 years old and wearing his body worn processor. He wants to be sure everyone knows he’s not that young anymore.