Sunday, June 30, 2013

Life with Theme Park Mice: The Chair

I stand at the bottom of a paved hill, in the middle of Disney's doomed Pleasure Island, and begin to doubt my strength. Pleasure Island used to be filled with dance clubs and bars before they were all shuttered, and I wonder how any drunk person managed this incline without tumbling down it. My recently injured wife is in a wheelchair, and I must push her up this hill. There are other paths, but none this direct or quick.

Suddenly, I notice a wheelchair next to ours. There's a teenage girl, most likely also with a broken leg, sitting in it. She smiles at my wife, who smiles back to her. It seems like a pleasant enough scene, but I know the real truth. This is now a race, and I will reach the top of the hill first.

Hunching down, I begin to push with all of my strength. My wife isn't heavy, but this steep grade is punishing even without a wheelchair. The Florida humidity clings to my flesh as the sun sears my face. I almost begin to run, pushing and pushing while trying not to lose my grip.

I take a quick glance to our side, and notice the other chair is matching our speed. I try to increase the pace, but the crowd closes in around me and blocks the path. Finally, with a final
effort, I reach the crest, sadly at the same time as the other wheelchair. I have only managed a tie, which is even more depressing considering the other group didn't realize we were racing.

Since my wife broke her ankle, we've had to adjust our visits to Disney, and theme parks in general. We managed to have decent luck and purchase a used wheelchair for $25. We had less luck when said wheelchair broke a wheel, and we were forced to replace it for another $25. Still, $50 is less than a few days rental fee, and has allowed us to experience Disney from a new perspective.

I no longer feel like I should complain when I'm run over by a wheelchair. Well, I should amend that statement. I will no longer complain when run over in a crowd. If you smash my foot with a motorized chair in an empty plaza, I'm still going to mutter curse words under my breath.

Animal Kingdom has our vote so far for worst park with a wheelchair. We still love it, but those pathways are murderous.
However, I now have personal experience with the massive hassle it is maneuvering a wheelchair through Disney crowds. When you're surrounded by people on all sides with no clear way forward, there is a point you just have to utter "excuse me" in a rapid fire fashion and hope people will acknowledge your existence long enough to move half an inch to the side. Finding abandoned walkways is no longer a treasured luxury, but a necessity to get around the parks.

Of course, those parks are surprisingly difficult to explore even without the people. Since everything is themed, many walkways are covered in textured tiles, wooden planks, or other surfaces that are neither flat nor smooth. This results in a jittery, bumpy ride for my wife, and I get the lovely sensation of my wrist bones fusing as I try to hold on to the chair's handles. There are also a shocking amount of hills, more than I ever noticed. I could almost believe they added a few dozen extra inclines around the parks in the weeks since my wife's accident.

There are many other little concerns, too. Bathrooms are a particularly fun experience, as it seems the majority of handicap stalls are occupied by every type of person except those needing special assistance. There's also the joy of fighting for accessible tables at mealtimes, where the no holds barred frenzy to find seating is already a nightmare.

It's not all bad, mind. While we haven't taken advantage of many of the official aids for those in wheelchairs, we have found a great deal of helpfulness from Cast Members and park employees. We've also had lots of little moments of positivity from other guests, who often hold doors open for my wife and ask her if she needs help. I don't always have a bright outlook on much of humanity, but I will say that the last few weeks have brightened my outlook a bit. Orlando traffic usually dims it again, but at least it's brighter for a moment.

We're still waiting for word on just how long it will be before my wife is healed and able to walk again. Our best guess is that she still has a few more weeks in the chair, at least. We're going to keep having our little adventures, regardless, and learn a little more about what it's like to deal with the chair.

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