Disneyland and Legoland have made some improvements — for children of all abilities.
New and Improved Mickey’s Toontown
Mickey’s Toontown has reopened at Disneyland and while the land has been updated extensively in design, there’s one big focus underlying many of the changes: inclusivity.
“We got a lot of guests who utilize our parks in different ways, who see, hear, feel our experiences in different ways. And we wanted every child to know that when it came to this land, this land was designed for them. That they were seen and that this place was welcoming to them,” said Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz, portfolio executive producer at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Families visiting Toontown will likely notice much more in the way of green spaces, trees and a generally more calming vibe. They may also notice no curbs, for added accessibility. It’s all intentional. Imagineers wanted Toontown to become a place where families could connect, relax, re-set and decompress.
Guests entering the land will encounter Centoonial Park, including several features like a dreaming tree, inspired by the tree Walt Disney daydreamed under in his hometown of Marceline, Missouri. In the nearby play space, there are tree roots large enough for kids to crawl under and balance on.
“They have a wheelchair-accessible path through this space,” said Shaver-Moskowitz.
Another big centerpiece is the Mickey and Minnie fountain designed for all children to play with directly and water tables at levels for all needs — from the smallest guests to those in wheelchairs.
“We designed also at the height for a child wheelchair to be able to roll up and engage with that water as well,” said Shaver-Moskowitz.
Past Centoonial Park and into Goofy’s How-to-Play Yard is a massive play area, sound garden, musical bridge, slides, and of course, Goofy’s house with an interactive, candy-making contraption.
“We wanted to make sure when we designed sound effects for the land that they were natural sounds, that they were sounds that were not mechanical or high-pitched or things that possibly a child on the spectrum could be a little upset by,” said Shaver-Moskowitz.
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Again, you’ll find ramp ways in this area for accessibility and Imagineers also took great thought in the roller slides.
“Little ones with less mobility in their legs, it’s really hard to get down that last piece of a slide and roller slides will help them get all the way down the slide,” said Shaver-Moskowitz. “And then we got a landing on the bottom of that so that our littlest guests who need some time to get into a wheelchair can get into that wheelchair, take their time, and do it comfortably without feeling any pressure from any kids at the top of the slide wanting to come down.”
The planning for inclusivity extends beyond the land’s design elements and into its merchandise. Headbands sold in the EngineEar Souvenirs gift shop in Toontown come in an adaptive version with a chin strap.
“One thing we did, embracing the ideas that this place is made for families of all abilities is we made not only our regular headband but we have an adaptive headband as well for our guests that may not be as comfortable wearing that headband. It’s got the Velcro and the headband piece is a lot softer,” said Kimberly Wilson, retail operations manager of integration.
Legoland Resorts Now Certified Autism Centers
As of March 31, all Legoland Resorts in North America officially became Certified Autism Centers (CAC). Legoland California in Carlsbad received its designation last year and New York is the final US Legoland Resort to receive this certification.
“Our goal at Merlin Entertainments is to make our experiences ‘awesome for everyone’ and to inspire imagination and creativity for all guests — this includes the one in 44 children diagnosed with autism in the USA annually,” said Julie Estrada, public relations director for North America, Merlin Entertainments.
Estrada said that Legoland California Resort worked with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to become a Certified Autism Center, ensuring their teams have the tools and support they need when engaging with a neurodiverse population.
“The focus is not only on the training of employees but on sensory signage and guides that indicate the levels of intensity for touch, taste, sound, sight and smell so there are no surprises during a family’s experience in the parks,” said Estrada.