At two years old my daughter received bilateral cochlear implants. Basically, this means that instead of hearing acoustically through her ear canal, she hears electronically through electrodes that have been implanted into her cochlea. You can see in the below picture how the processor looks. Once Marlee takes her cochlears (or her “ears” as we call them) off she is completely deaf and communicates through lip reading and some basic sign language.
We had already travelled to Disney World in Orlando, Florida with Marlee before she was implanted, and at that time she was using hearing aids. Disney has many assistive devices and options for their hard of hearing guests, but I wanted to share with you in particular some tips for travelling with young children with hearing loss and specifically those that utilize the cochlear implant technology. Since Marlee was so little when she started travelling to Disney, she couldn’t yet read, so the closed captioning devices were useless for her and she had not yet learned more than basic sign language so ASL interpreters were also not an option. Marlee can hear very well with her new “ears” but struggles in noisy places and needs special accommodations when it comes to seating locations. Here are a few things we have learned so far on our journey with Marlee:
I think my new tagline has become “Disney always does it right!” because I say this so often to my client families. A little preparation can go a long way to making your Disney vacation extra magical for your little ones with hearing loss, because Disney customer service truly is the best in the world. They really do care, and they want you to have the most magical time possible. As an example, I’d like to share one of my experiences.
Back in 2015 my family and I were planning a trip back “home” to Disney World and staying at Disney’s Grand
Floridian Resort & Spa. I had booked The Disney Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the resort’s Garden View Tea Room for my daughter and myself for some special mommy time.
I decided to call ahead the week before just to notify them of my daughter’s hearing loss and inquire as to the style of the tiara provided to all the little guests at the party (for little girls with cochlear implants, sometimes the standard princess tiaras can be a problem because of the location of the magnets on their heads. The tiara combs often need to sit exactly where the magnets are, which is a dilemma).
When we arrived, not only had Disney provided more than one option for Marlee in case the tiara didn’t work with her cochlears, they singled her out to lead the party in song with princess Aurora who, along with “Rose Petal”, taught the song in sign language to all of the children present. They also made sure that Marlee was seated in the best location to see the faces of the performers so she could lip-read and the entire experience had me fighting back tears. Disney will exceed your expectations every time if you arm them with information and time to prepare!
The most common question I get asked by families travelling with children who wear cochlear implants is can they do all of the rides at Disney World safely. The answer is a big, fat YES! There is no ride at Disney World that cannot be done safely while wearing a cochlear implant as long as you take the right precautions. Always make sure you have those processors securely attached as you wander the parks – you don’t want to be in a situation where you are standing in line and suddenly realize your little one is missing a processor – retracing your steps to try and find it will be near impossible. Some younger children also tend to throw their processors when having a meltdown – trying to direct a Cast Member to find where your child’s processor has landed in the Savannah whilst experiencing the Kilimanjaro Safari Ride is not what I would consider a fun-filled Disney vacation! There are many options out there that work well, so simply use what works best for your child.
Personally, we use these from the bebop shop (https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/thebebopshop) on Etsy. That way we know that while Marlee is walking around or in the stroller we don’t need to worry about her processor dropping off anywhere.
3. Assess and Ask a Cast Member
When it comes to viewing shows and performances at Disney, there are always special accommodations for the hard of hearing. However, sometimes the designated seating locations for the hard of hearing are not the best depending on what type of hearing loss your child has and what type of equipment they use. My best advice is to always simply ask a Cast Member – they will do their very best to accommodate you and your children! We took Marlee to see the Candlelight Processional in EPCOT’s American Gardens Theatre at Disney World. As we reached the Cast Member who was going to be directing us to our seating we informed them of Marlee’s hearing loss and she brought us down to a designated section at the very front, right of the theatre.
So as soon as you are seated at a show, assess your surroundings. Make sure you are in the best place for your particular needs. If something doesn’t work for your child – make the request early. As long as the show hasn’t started yet, the Cast Members will move you to a better location based on your needs for that particular venue. Don’t just assume that because you are in the designated seating for hard of hearing that you have to stay there if being moved to a different location will allow your kiddies with hearing loss to enjoy the show more fully. Disney always does it right!!
What makes us different is what makes us beautiful! Nowhere is this more true than at Disney World! Let your son or daughter decorate their processors with Disney themed stickers and share what makes them special with the world!
We use vinyl stickers from Skinit! (www.skinit.com) which already have designs specially made for both Cochlear and Medel cochlear implant processors (as well as for Sophono bone-anchored hearing aids). They are licenced now for Disney and so you can trick out your little ones processors to the nines with Ariel, Moana or whatever is your little’s favourite character! You can see in this picture that Marlee was totally ready to impress with her Rapunzel themed processors – and Rapunzel was truly honoured!
It’s no wonder that the Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida has been chosen so many times since 2006 as the host venue for the Cochlear Celebration. This is an incredible event held for families across North America that use the “Cochlear” brand of cochlear implant technology to come together to share their stories, their challenges and their triumphs while simultaneously learning how to improve their hearing performance through education sessions and workshops. What better place to celebrate the magic of hearing than at Walt Disney World where all of your senses are flooded with amazing experiences coming together to create those memories that will last a lifetime!