Disabled Representation is Improving at Disney

Blog: Disabled Representation

Planning a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, this holiday season? If so, don’t miss the classic “It’s a Small World” attraction’s newest additions – two dolls who use wheelchairs.

“It’s a Small World,” one of Disney’s longest running attractions, was first created for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. It opened at Disneyland in 1966 and has been a favorite ever since.

Disney Imagineer Kim Irving says it’s important for Disney’s attractions to change with the times. She told Parade Magazine that her team has been surveying Disneyland “with a magnifying glass” to find spots where the organization can increase inclusivity.

“We are always looking to enhance our attractions with not just fun things, but meaningful things as well,” said Irving in a CNN interview.

Disney Resort manager of accessibility Erin Quintanilla, a wheelchair user, said the ride’s disability representation was “an historic moment.” As she told CNN, “I feel seen. I feel represented. It’s a monumental moment to have my community be in an attraction and represented. I teared up when I saw them in the attraction.”

Dolls in wheelchairs are expected to be added to “It’s a Small World” in Florida’s Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris sometime next year.

Adding dolls who use wheelchairs is just one example of Disney’s efforts to become a more inclusive organization. In 2021, Disney updated rides such as Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain after visitors complained that they contained racist imagery. Some Disney watchers expect that the park’s Peter Pan ride will also be updated soon, as the ride has been criticized for its negative portrayals of Indigenous people.

Disney has also made efforts to become a more inclusive workplace for its employees. In 2012, employees were [for the first time] permitted to wear beards. Nowadays, they are able to display body piercings and tattoos and can choose their own costumes.  Disney’s inclusion policy seems to be working. For the past five years, The Walt Disney Company has earned a top score on the 2022 Disability Equality Index (DEI), a tool that measures disability workplace inclusion.

Disney’s updated inclusion agenda can also be seen in films and television programs where the company has taken steps to diversify its characters. In addition to portrayals of ethnically diverse characters such as “Big Hero 6,” “Moana,” “The Frog Princess,” and “Pocahontas,” Disney has also increased disability representation with films such as “Finding Nemo,” “Finding Dory,” “Kim Possible” and “Luca.”

While disabled Disney fans are pleased with these changes, many are still waiting for Disney to create a film starring a disabled princess. According to Newzhook.com, “Sydney-based writer and disability advocate Hannah Diviney even started a petition to urge Disney Pixar saying that a disabled Disney princess would give many people around the world ‘the chance to see themselves be the hero of their own story.’ She says, ‘If the magical seed of representation is planted at a young age, it will bloom into something precious and valuable. …It would also be providing a powerful reference point for non-disabled children to understand us and our lives.’”