One of the reasons Orlando’s theme parks are so highly regarded is their commitment to accessibility. Guests of all needs are welcome. Walt Disney World has a reputation for its excellent accessibility, but if you’re not very familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act there can be some ambiguity about Disney’s policy on emotional support animals.
By Dani Dennison Meyering
It is important to note that Walt Disney World has the final say about their guidelines and policy. This article is not meant to take the place of Disney’s information posted on their official website. To contact Disney directly you can reach Disability Services at (407) 560-2547 or email [email protected].
According to the official Americans with Disabilities Act website, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
As of March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. According to Disney’s official website, miniature horses that are trained as service animals are permitted. The official ADA website does indicate that miniature horses that meet certain criteria, should be permitted in the same way as a service dog.
Those that are seeking information as to if an emotional support animal would be permitted should consider this additional information from the official ADA website:
A service animal must be under the control of its handler. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or these devices interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of tasks. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.
Many guests wonder what Disney staff or other employees are allowed to ask regarding a service or emotional support animal. According to the ADA website:
Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
All Disney cast members are generally trained under these guidelines, but should a guest have any concerns it is recommended that they speak to Guest Relations or a member of management.
According to Disney’s official website, “Service animals must be under the control of the owner at all times and should remain on a leash or in a harness. Cast members are not able to take control of service animals.” This policy does align with the standard set forth in ADA titles II and III.
Due to the nature of some attractions, service animals may not be permitted to ride. At these locations, cast members can offer options to accommodate your party. These options include a Rider Switch pass for anyone who waits with the service animal outside the attraction while other members of the party enjoy the attraction. The Rider Switch allows the holder to then take their turn on the ride without having to wait in the regular standby line. Another option is the use of a portable kennel at the ride’s boarding and unloading area where the animal can wait while their party rides.
Disney does have multiple areas accessible in the park that service animals can use for rest and relief. These areas are marked with a sign visible inside the park, and generally lead to areas that are “backstage,” away from view of most guest areas. Guest Relations can assist with showing guests where these areas are located.
There are four Disney owned and operated resort hotels that are designated dog-friendly accommodations, including:
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney Port Orleans Resort Riverside
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- The Cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort
Whether you’re traveling with your pet or a service animal, these designated dog-friendly Disney Resort hotels offer great convenience for those traveling with dogs. Amenities include guest rooms that have easy outdoor access for exercise and green spaces for pet relief, as well as special welcome package. Only a portion of each dog-friendly resort is available for dogs in order to help protect guests with dog allergies.
When reviewing this information about service animals and emotional support animals, it’s good to remember that according to the ADA, as of March 15, 2011, only dogs and certain miniature horses are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. Any other animal’s admission is purely at the discretion of the private property operator.
In summary, if you’re wondering if Disney allows emotional support animals, the answer is “it depends.” Disney officially allows support animals, specifically dogs and miniature horses, that are trained to do work or perform specific tasks. Furthermore, the animal needs to be leashed or harnessed and be under the control of the owner at all times. Emotional support animals that meet this criteria will most likely be welcomed.
It’s important to point out that Disney’s guidelines apply to all of Walt Disney World Resort, including Disney Springs, and their four dog-friendly resort hotels. If you are unsure if an animal meets this criteria it is recommended that you contact Disney’s Disability Services department well in advance of a visit for assistance.