My mom emailed me a link to one of her Disney-geek websites, parkeology.com (why the e? who knows?).
The site is focused on the obscure and the small details that make Disney parks special/unique/interesting.
This weekend, they posted about Tokyo Disney, a place I am not likely to get to anytime soon.
The writer is focusing on the (evidently incredible) results of wedding Japanese commitment to courtesy and service with Disney's formerly-legendary emphasis on customer service [in recent years, the extremely strict regulations for cast members have been relaxed, at least at the Florida parks; as a person who has worked crummy minimum-wage jobs, I empathize, but I also feel like something is lost when groups of cast members stand around and chat about their boyfriends like any mall employees might. That's not part of "the show," as the old-time Imagineers would say].
A lot of the Parkeology post is taken up with story cards for non-Japanese-speaking guests (the cards shown are printed in English). These are neat - they explain the narratives and themes of the park's attractions, and do so accompanied by gorgeous illustrations - so that non-Japanese speakers can follow along despite Japanese narrations inside the attractions.
But the thing that blew MY mind is the shorter piece of service preceding the story cards. It's accompanied by the photo at right, which is of small, evidently wooden, models of the vehicles for various attractions.Because theming and detail are so important to the Disney Park Experience, all the vehicles are different, tailored to the theme and mood of each attraction.
If you cannot make out the text on this explanatory placard, it reads: SCALE MODELS: Our Visually Impaired Guests May Touch These Models To Easily Understand The Shape of Some Attraction Vehicles.
I don't do disability studies, though it's at the fringes of my consciousness, via queer theory and fat studies and being alive in the world where one can SEE how most places and things are not well adapted for the differently abled.
I have never seen or heard of anything like this particular accommodation for visually-impaired guests. It blows my mind. It makes me feel unaccountably teary in its almost extreme considerateness. Highly detailed scale models of the ride vehicles, for guests to handle and examine if they cannot visually see the vehicles. A way to experience an aspect of the attraction that has tremendous visual impact and that adds to the overall immersive experience. Making those small details - those aspects of the show which were so essential to the project of Disneyland and its offshoots - available to guests who are visually impaired.
It makes a difference, you know; take the vehicles for, say, Peter Pan's Flight (a perennial favorite, though one I personally loathe; it terrified me as a small child - those swinging cars felt terribly unsafe - and then bored/horrified me as an adult who had spent years working on Peter Pan for my masters thesis). Guests board miniature pirate ships suspended from a track on the ceiling. They aren't just generic cars or ski-lift-style hoists; they are miniature versions of Hook's pirate ship. A blind, or otherwise visually impaired, guest won't know this. But the model allows for that experience in a literally hands-on way.
It's absolutely incredible to me. It's an adaptation or accommodation that, once it's pointed out, seems almost essential and obvious, but it's one that is absent from the other parks (and in fact, from virtually anywhere I've ever been). It's evidence of an near-universal thoughtfulness and consideration for all the needs of all the kinds of guests. I know very little about Japanese culture, and don't want to make huge generalizations based on this tiny bit of evidence. However, the fact that someone thought this was necessary, and then a number of people agreed on it and actually executed the plan - this speaks to a culture of consideration for others that I find entrancing.
When I first moved to Washington DC I used to have to take the metro from my workplace to my apartment in Arlington. I had to change trains, during rush hour, at Metro Center - this was a thing that required nerves of steel. A suit of armor would have helped as well. One afternoon, fighting towards my train along with what felt like half the world's population, I saw a visually-impaired man (he had a cane and was clearly using it to navigate) get literally pushed aside by the crowd trying to cram into the metro car. The blind man was also trying to enter the car; he had to feel for the opening with the cane. The impatient horde of rush-hour commuters actually shoved this man out of the way. It wasn't just the pressure of a crushing crowd; it was an aggressive, "out-of-my-way" shoving, the kind of behavior you see on local news on "black friday," when shoppers claw each other for deals on elmos and ipads and wiis. That man, and I, didn't get on that train.
I was shocked.
Actually shocked. I am still shocked when I think about this. That man was at a disadvantage; he had a visual impairment that demanded he take a few extra seconds to find his way into a train car. His impairment - because he was using a cane - was extremely obvious to everyone around him. Accommodating him would have been the work of literally seconds, a tiny shred of time when the crowd hung back and allowed this chap to find his way into the train.
Instead he was shoved off-balance in the tiny stampede of commuters.
Those small scale models for visually-impaired guests makes me suspect that, in Japan, that blind man with his cane would have entered calmly and unhindered into the train car.
Those scale models also make me think back - because everything is related to one's dissertation - to Mister Rogers; that kind of accommodation is being neighborly in an entirely pragmatic but essential way.
I love those scale models, and whoever thought of them.