When I went to Disneyland during spring break, I found myself wondering how the Disney characters interact with children who have vision impairments, or if any special considerations were taken for blind kids meeting Disney characters. In order to learn more about how visually impaired kids meet Disney characters, I interviewed different cast members throughout the park and even talked to some of the characters themselves about how to make the most of a character meet and greet for kids with blindness and low vision. Today, I will be sharing how people with vision impairments meet Disney characters and what to expect when meeting Disney characters when you have a visual impairment.
How the character meeting process works
Before going into the meet and greet, it’s helpful to know how the character meeting process works:
1. First, a Disney staff member helps to direct people to wait in line for the character. These lines can vary in length and location, as not all characters have established meeting locations
2. As people wait in line, they will pass other Disney staff that monitor the progress of the line and may separate people into other smaller lines
3. Right before meeting the character, there is a character handler that can relay any important information to the character or photographer
4. After passing the character holder, guests can finally meet the Disney character. Most guests hug them or hold a short conversation, followed by posing for pictures.
Types of Disney characters
There are two different types of characters that guests can meet in the Disney parks. This doesn’t refer to characters from different franchises, rather different types of costumes and levels of communication that characters can participate in.
Characters like Mickey Mouse wear full costumes that obscure their face and do not speak to guests. Instead, they use hand gestures and hug guests, sometimes putting their arms around the guests for photos. When I met fur characters, they would put their paws/hands on my shoulders to help direct me to where I needed to look.
Face characters typically play human characters such as Princess Elsa, and wear different types of costumes. Face characters can talk to guests and provide verbal cues for posing.
Alerting the handler to vision impairment
Before going up to the characters, the handler will talk to guests and get them excited for meeting the character. When I was visiting Disneyland, the handler quickly noticed that I use a blindness cane and offered to walk me to where the character was standing. They also asked if there was anything specific that I might need help with, such as character descriptions or dimmed lighting in the indoor character area. For an outdoor character meeting area, they offered to have the character move slightly so that the sun would not be directly in my eyes.
For guests with visual impairment that do not use a cane, one of the cast members I talked to suggested that guests tell them that they have trouble seeing, that they have low vision, or that they are legally blind. From there, the character handler can ensure there are no obstacles for a guest to run into or provide character descriptions as needed.
Touching the costumes of characters
Almost all of the characters I met noticed that I use a blindness cane, and encouraged me to feel the different details of their costumes as they described them. For example, Princess Tiana was telling me about the embroidered flower detailing on her dress and encouraged me to feel the fabric of her skirt to show the different textures. When I met Pluto, the character handler encouraged me to feel the details of Pluto’s face and collar so that I could read the text on his dog tag. Disney puts a lot of thought into their costumes, so I was excited to feel all of these interesting details.
Receiving descriptions of costumes
When I met Black Panther, I asked how he would describe his costume to someone who might not notice all of the interesting details. He was excited to tell me all about the interesting patterns on his suit, the details on his helmet, and the other textured elements of his costume. This was incredibly interesting to me, because when I watched Black Panther with audio description, I didn’t realize how many different items were included in the costume design. For Mickey Mouse, the character handler told me all about his iconic costume while Mickey pointed at different elements. Characters typically describe their costumes from top to bottom and use color names, shapes, and size of items to describe details.
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Posing for photos
Whenever I am posing for pictures, I frequently rely on verbal cues so that I know where the camera is and how to pose. When meeting Captain America, he explained that he was going to hold his shield and put another arm next to me, and that I should grab onto his arm and look straight ahead. The photographer then guided me to make sure that I was looking at the camera.
When I met Frozone, the photographer told me that Frozone was going to have his hands in a specific position and guided me so that I would be able to make the same pose. They then used some sort of noisemaker so that I could focus on where the camera was.
A note on photosensitivity
In both cases, I made sure to alert the photographer that I am sensitive to flashing lights, and that they should not use flash photography. Since many of the photos were taken on my phone, this was not an issue.
Another thing I did prior to meeting the characters was ask someone if there were any flashing or strobing lights inside the character area. One of the character waiting areas had a flickering light, so a cast member guided me through an alternate waiting area so that I wouldn’t have to worry about a migraine.
How to trace character’s signatures
For guests that want to be able to feel the signatures of the Disney characters, I recommend using tactile image guidelines to trace the image so that it can be felt by someone with a vision impairment. My friend’s mom was telling me that she traced the signatures with glue, added glitter or sand on top, and let it dry. She suggested that guests should use single-sided pages so that the texture did not impact reading other pages.
Tips for preparing to meet Disney characters
Cast members and friends suggested I include some of these other quick tips for preparing to meet Disney characters:
- “Make sure that guests do not grab handfuls of the costume or pull when they are touching the costume, since that can be painful for the character.”
- “I wore sunglasses all day at Disney because the lights were so bright, even in the character meeting areas. I normally don’t wear them much indoors, but some people might find that helpful.”
- “Encourage guests to touch the costumes in the same way they would touch Braille on paper.”
- “Watch Disney movies with audio description! It helps with developing ideas of what the characters look like and provides more descriptive information.”
Visiting Disney World and Disneyland with vision impairment is a fun experience, and I’m glad that so many of the characters were open to helping me research how to describe costumes for vision impairment. I hope that guests with blindness and low vision are able to use these Disney character meeting tips to improve their experience!