Disney Theme Parks and their handling of the American’s With Disabilities Act is such a huge topic, I don’t even want to get started for fear of flame wars. Suffice it to say there is a lot of controversy on both sides. My personal opinion is that WDW is just handicap tolerant, which is probably all that the ADA requires, but does not always provide the best guest experience they could to people with disabilities.
In 1997 there was an agreement reached with the US Department of Justice in which Walt Disney World and Disneyland agreed to improve their handling of equal access for guests with hearing impairments. Some of the details of the agreement are interesting to say the least:
For those attractions at which interpreters or
captioning are not currently provided under this Agreement, WDW will
continue to evaluate and develop technologies or other methods of
providing more effective communication for hard of hearing or deaf
guests. In the interim, where written aids are the only auxiliary aid
presently available, hard of hearing or deaf guests and a companion
shall be allowed to experience the ride or attraction a second time
promptly, being seated by WDW personnel at the next available
performance or rotation of the attraction, if they identify themselves
as a person with a hearing disability at the entrance to the ride or
I’d never heard of this option before. Among the attractions that are listed as using ‘written aids’ are: Splash Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Tiki Room, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Ellen’s Energy Adventure (although why anyone would want to experience that 45 minute ride twice in a row is beyond me). This list may have changed some since 1997, so check with Guest Relations on your next visit if you have a hearing impairment.
See also this list of recent ADA related settlements with other companies.