(CNN) — For the first time in Disneyland’s 67-year history, there are now characters in wheelchairs represented on an attraction.
On Friday morning, two dolls in wheelchairs were unveiled on the theme park’s “It’s a Small World” ride, a project that took more than half a year and involved both Disney creatives and the park’s accessibility team.
The change was part of an ongoing effort of looking at the resort “with a magnifying glass” for opportunities for inclusion, said Kim Irvine, executive creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering for Disneyland Resort.
Jill Houghton, president and CEO of Disability:IN, a nonprofit that works on business disability inclusion, called the new dolls “a fantastic addition.”
“The dolls are participating inclusively alongside their non-disabled peers, which is something we want to see more of, instead of being depicted as limited or incapable because of a disability,” Houghton said in a statement to CNN.
She noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, “but nothing in this law compels businesses to increase representation.
“Disney clearly sees the benefits of attracting a wider audience that is inclusive to everyone. We need to see more of this in pop culture, theme parks and entertainment if we want to be truly representative of the largest minority group in the world,” Houghton said.
The “It’s a Small World” attraction, designed by Disney artist Mary Blair, opened in 1966 in Anaheim, California, after it was presented at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York.
The same ride was added to other Disney parks around the world, where guests board a boat and sail through multiple countries, featuring more than 300 Audio-Animatronics figures representing children from around the world.
Irvine said the new additions fit into the spirit of the original attraction.
“What a wonderful story that Walt and Mary Blair, and the original Imagineers, put together about the children of the world and our unity all under one bright sun — and how we really should rejoice together in that.”
The dolls that are now in wheelchairs were originally standing. Irvine said the same characters with the same clothing were recreated in a seated position, in wheelchairs designed to match the Mary Blair style.
One doll is located in the ride’s South America scene, and the other appears in the final scene where dolls from many countries sing together.
Adding ‘meaningful things’
The attraction at Disneyland reopened on Friday after a brief closure for the addition of these dolls and the installation of holiday décor for the “It’s a Small World Holiday” edition of the ride that will run through early January.
While the holiday décor is seasonal, the dolls in wheelchairs are a permanent addition.
Dolls with wheelchairs are also expected to be added to “It’s a Small World” in Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris sometime next year.
But because each resort’s version of the ride has a different layout and different sets, those new dolls and wheelchairs will be designed with the specific version of the ride in mind.
“I think that is definitely something that the original Imagineers would embrace and think was wonderful that we were looking at things like this,” Irvine said.
“We are always looking to enhance our attractions with not just fun things, but meaningful things as well. And keeping timely with what’s happening in the world, and especially, you know, making things new.
“I know we never want our attractions to become so predictable that you could ride them with your eyes closed and know what’s going on in there. We like to constantly be surprising you with new things and important things, especially relevant things.”
Erin Quintanilla, manager of accessibility for the Disneyland Resort, said this was a historic moment.
“I feel seen. I feel represented. It’s a monumental moment to have my community be in an attraction and represented,” said Quintanilla, who uses a wheelchair. “I teared up when I saw them in the attraction.”
Quintanilla said her team had been approached by Disneyland creatives who wanted to add these dolls. Her accessibility team made sure the look was authentic, down to the angle of the dolls’ feet on the wheelchair footplates.
“We wanted to make sure that it was a person in a wheelchair who was independently moving through life. So we didn’t want the wheelchair to feel like a hospital style wheelchair. You’ll notice in the design, it’s beautifully created to align with a Mary Blair style,” said Quintanilla.
“But there are details of the wheelchair like having a push rim so that the doll would be able to move through the story in a way that I move through the world. So it’s pretty special to have those details be accurate,” Quintanilla said.
Other changes from Disney
New dolls have not been added to the Disneyland version of this ride since 2009.
At that time, a “Spirit of America” room was added, including three Native American dolls and characters from the movie “Toy Story.”
More dolls of specific Disney characters were added throughout the attraction.
As part of overall efforts to improve inclusion and diversity in its theme parks, Disney recently announced changing the Splash Mountain attraction, which is based on characters from “Song of the South,” into a theme inspired by “The Princess and the Frog,” featuring Disney’s first Black princess.
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