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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Walt Disney World with Disabilities and Food Allergies by: guest author Laurie Smith

Walt Disney World with Disabilities and Food Allergies
By: Laurie Smith

I did last year's Food and Wine Festival at Epcot with a lot of disappointing moments as to the food kiosks. At times I would have to have a chef come from half way around the park to talk with me. The staff had a list of items with check marks for the top allergens. Soy lecithin would cause an item to be listed as SOY even though many people can tolerate soy lecithin. There was no way to differentiate between types of nuts added. Things have changed this year with the Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot in WDW. I have tried Japan and the USA booths so far.  I look forward to returning during the Flower & Garden Festival to experience more great food.
There are lovely gardens, demonstrations and seminars, and the best part was the vegetable garden. They have an Oz themed playground and a Cars themed playground. There are three concerts a day in the USA pavilion. I had a great time and for once came home with a full tummy.  The new information is that each kiosk must have a chef on site to approve special dietary request. If not, they must call a chef and if necessary have a chef come out. They do have books but for safety sake they rather have a chef approve anything that could hurt someone with allergies. At least now they have a detailed list of ingredients, which is so comforting.

Just like at WDW bakeries and confectioneries each kiosk has an ingredient book. I vaguely recall the top allergens being in red.
Japan used the ingredient book, whereas, the chefs at the USA kiosk knew exactly what did not have soy and wheat/gluten. I could not get anything at Japan that did not have soy except the flan which I passed up due to eggs. They use soy sushi paper for the fruit sushi which is made backstage ahead of time. I went to the Smokehouse in USA and immediately heard that I could have both pork dishes. I started with the pulled pork slider with cole slaw. They piled the paper boat with pulled pork that was tender, juicy and flavorful then came the tangy cole slaw. The coleslaw uses a vinegar based dressing and has cabbage, red peppers, and carrots. I could eat 5 more of these. They do not have GF rolls but honestly I think this was better without the bread. The second dish is the Smoked Beef Brisket with collard greens and JalapeƱo cornbread. They gave me a paper boat full of tender moist brisket with lots of fat which I loved. It was savory and reminded me of the roasts I had as a child. They held the corn bread because of my wheat/soy restrictions. I am not a fan of wilted plants but for the sake of review I tried the collard greens. I ate the whole thing because it was full of bacon and flavor even though I still dislike greens. Personally I think the only way you normally could get me to eat collard greens is with a pint of ice cream on the side, yuck.

Some items like the pork slider at Smokehouse in USA are assembled on site. Items made on site sometimes can allow them to hold sauces, components, and garnishes. However some items are made back stage and brought to the kiosks. Those dishes cannot be altered. They cannot serve the cole slaw without carrot or without bell peppers, for example. They do have a team of chefs and managers who for the most part make sure there is no cross contamination and that guests can find something to eat. Still you must use your gut feelings and double check if in doubt. I questioned staff about the cole slaw because most cole slaw uses mayonnaise or other soy based dressings.  I cannot have any gluten/wheat and soy so I go to WDW for safe meals and snacks. I had my first onion rings, scallops, meatloaf, fried chicken, sushi, and penne cotta in a decade all thanks to WDW. At WDW there are very few things I cannot do even though I have a bad back, arthritis, psychological issues, obesity, and a strict diet.

One piece of advice for all guests and especially disabled guests is to watch out for people with tunnel vision who get so focused at the task at hand that they forget about everything around them. It is human nature to not look up or down when walking. Guests will stand in front of a horse drawn trolley while the bell clangs, walk into a light post, and trip over furniture that they do not see. They are oblivious to strollers, wheelchair, children, and other people in the parks. People tend to focus on the task at hand such as getting off of the monorail to the point that they forget about holding the gate open for other guests. They focus so hard on getting in line that they cut in front of other people or leave half of their party behind. The disabled guest must watch out for inattentive guests who might cut in line, walk into a disabled guest, or accidentally knock down a disabled guest. The disabled guest needs to watch for people who will stop abruptly in front of people or will stand in front of a guest at a parade.

Another problem disabled guests gets is the assumptions, stares, and comments of other guests. Never let other people get to you as most people are not rude on purpose. I use a scooter so that I can get out of the house and walk around a grocery store or amusement park. I need my scooter in case I have a food reaction that leaves me weak and tired. Guests will stare at something to try to figure out what they are seeing. I stare at wheelchairs and strollers to see what makes them so special like a man looking at a car. For me it is my visual quirks where I have to take time to access what I am seeing. Most guests have never had to deal with someone with dietary limitations let alone someone with a disability. When I sit on the floor and need to get up it has to be on my own terms with nobody touching me. People do not know that so they help me as best they can. I find that explaining things is the best way to end stares and to make friends. People who prattle on and on about lazy fat people in scooters will shut up if you tell them why you need a scooter. Tell them that that child in the stroller has autism and the prattler will shut up but watch out for the hole they are dragging the embarrassed rumps into. If I am at a door that needs opening and someone walks past me through the door I say "Thank you for holding the door open for me!" loud enough to be heard. That will get the person to realize that they cut in front of me and were rude to not hold the door open. I was taught to hold the door for others even if they are not disabled.

I lectured a lady on an elevator in the Land building at Epcot after she assumed that I was just sitting there waiting for my family. I politely explained that the next time she sees someone by an elevator that she should ask them if they are waiting for an elevator. I find that calling people Stupid, Idiot, and other insults does not work as the person is so used to those names that they assume that that is their given name.

I have so many sweet memories of my mother and me at Disneyland. Mom was diabetic, nearly bald, and was in a wheelchair. It did not help that she had a tendency to curl up when stressed so that she looked like a frail old lady. I checked into the Grand Californian and had to leave my mother aside to wait. When I checked on her she was happy as she chatted away with a cast member. Over and over again people talked with her, were nice to her, and tried hard to make her day special. There was the balloon given to her during breakfast at the Plaza Inn where she was hugged by many characters. Cast members chatted with Mom while carefully loading her on rides. She loved the Aladdin show at DCA and every show one of the camels would walk up to her. During parades the performers would wave to her and characters would stop to wave to her. At Steakhouse 55 the waiter remembered to put the coffee cup on the left side and bring out bread immediately. Mom was left handed so she preferred her cup on the left and the bread was needed NOW, because of her low sugar levels.

 A year ago I buried her with the shoes, Disneyland t-shirt and the Disneyland sweatshirt she wore in the parks. She enjoyed 50 years of Disneyland.

 Here is my mother at Plaza Inn for breakfast with Minnie and friends. The yellow balloon is the one they give kids and that is the Fairy Godmother who was very nice to Mom.

We must not dwell on the bad times but instead savor those memories of happy times. I moved to Florida because of the way we were  treated in Disneyland. At WDW there are people who hold doors open for the disable, who make room on the parade route for a disabled child, who carry the tray for a disabled guest at restaurants, who give a kid a sticker, and who chat with strangers as if they were neighbor. There are the kind people, who ask how you are doing, who pick up dropped items, and make room for others at parades and shows.  I savor the memories of disabled kids participating in the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom.

Thank you to Laurie for her candid, and frank story about dealing with allergies and disabilities in the parks.  Those of us to don't have to deal with this, and are sometimes clueless about what others endure.


  1. Thank you for reminding us all to be more aware of those around us.

    1. Yes Cathy. we all need to step back and see and feel what others have to deal with. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Great coverage, Laurie! We all could show a little more consideration for sure!