This Popular Vacation State Has One Of The Most Wheelchair Accessible Cities In The US

The vacation hub of Orlando, Florida, is America's most wheelchair-accessible city, according to an analysis done by Insider Monkey and syndicated on Yahoo Finance in March 2024. The analysis cites accessible theme park resorts, such as Universal Orlando, and a fully accessible bus service, Lynx, as factors in the city's top ranking. Disney World receives credit, too, though it's technically located about 15 miles outside Orlando proper in Bay Lake. As part of the Greater Orlando area, however, Disney also caters to disabled guests with support services like accessible hotel rooms, wheelchair and ECV (electric conveyance vehicle) rentals, and assistance boarding rides in both kinds of mobility devices.

The methodology used for Insider Monkey's analysis is otherwise somewhat vague; it says only that it scored the most wheelchair-accessible cities "based on different factors" and ranked the cities "based on a consensus, which involved evaluating various sources and Reddit threads." If that doesn't sound like enough of a rock-solid scientific study to bet your vacation money on, mainstream media outlets like CNBC have also reported that Orlando is one of America's three most accessible cities. This was based on an international survey of 3,500 disabled tourists, conducted by the Valuable 500, a global business collective focused on disability inclusion. In 2023, the collective's chief innovation officer, Rhiannon Parker, told USA Today, "It was super important for us to go from anecdotal evidence and what we're hearing day in and day out from the community to actually launching empirical research on this."

How Orlando's theme parks cater to disabled guests

In its survey results report, the Valuable 500 notes that Orlando is a popular convention venue but that theme parks are its chief draw. The city's airport is even busier than those in New York and Las Vegas, the other two most accessible U.S. cities selected by respondents. Unfortunately, this makes Orlando's airport one of the worst to fly in and out of, but it's at least designed to be barrier-free. The report also highlights the benefit of Disney World and Universal Orlando's complimentary shuttle buses, which are all equipped with wheelchair lifts. Another option for riding in style at Disney is to summon your own accessible Minnie Van through the Lyft app (though the polka-dotted vans aren't free like the buses are).

Universal considers queues part of the experience for its attractions, so it's made almost all the lines in its parks wheelchair-accessible. If you have a disability that makes long waits untenable, you can apply for an individual accessibility card from the IBCCES (International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards) within 30 days of your visit. As of May 2024, Disney has a similar 30-day advance registration requirement for its Disability Access Service, which requires an online interview and is geared more toward guests with autism or other developmental disabilities. The change was implemented to curtail abuse of the service's line-skipping privilege, but Disney has received criticism for it since it excludes some previously eligible disabled guests.

Wheelchairs in Disney World and beyond

Like Universal, Disney offers wheelchair rentals at the entrance to its Florida parks, though you might have to get there early since it's first-come, first-served. Some Disney World rides, such as the Jungle Cruise, can accommodate both wheelchairs and ECVs. Other rides, like Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run, feature designated loading areas for guests in wheelchairs.

Beyond that, small acts of kindness, or "magical moments," from Disney's cast members have left some parents of disabled children with positive memories of the resort. Bethany Hildebrandt, whose daughter uses a wheelchair, praised Disney World to USA Today, saying, "Usually, they not only are accommodating, but they will one-up themselves. Like, 'We want this for you, but we can't make it happen, so we're going to make it even better for you instead.'" That said, not everyone is enamored of Disney's new queue re-entry or return-to-queue system, which allows guests who don't qualify for the Disability Access Service to "briefly" exit long attraction lines. So, it remains to be seen whether the resort can maintain its reputation for accessibility. 

Beyond Disney, Orlando is also home to SeaWorld, which aids vacation planners with an in-depth, 29-page accessibility guide. For more on other resorts, check out our complete Universal Orlando guide for guests with disabilities and complete Disney World guide for guests with disabilities. Don't forget, either, that Orlando is only about 45 miles from Kennedy Space Center, which remains fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.