As a child, my parents took me to Disney World frequently, mostly Epcot, which at the time had a variety of attractions that fulfilled the other four senses and the small bit that was my fifth.
I was born with a rare genetic eye condition called Autosomal Recessive Ocular Albinism, which affects my vision to the point of legal blindness and makes my eyes sensitive to light. It also makes me face-blind and crowd-anxious. I hated crowds with a passion, but the only public place I felt safe was Disney World.
When I was seven, I was put into a transitional pre-first grade class because of my temper and the fact I was upset that what my classmates could do with ease took me twice as long to accomplish. At the time, I started to learn I was different, and I hated every aspect of it.
But my teacher, Mr. Bittle, kept me from getting down on myself. His classroom was decorated in everything Disney. Any unit we were working on, he would incorporate Disney into it somehow. Every morning during Circle time, he would sing the Mickey Mouse March, changing the word “Mouse” to “Rat” as an ode to the giant Mickey that roams the Magic Kingdom. He loved Disney just as much as I did, and made my time in the “different” class a fun experience.
On my birthday during Circle time, Mr. Bittle called me to the front of the classroom and handed me a gift, a Mickey Mouse button.
“Your love for Disney makes you my official Mouseketeer. I can see you working for Disney one day. Never give up on that dream.”
A few months later, I came to learn he passed away from cancer. To that day, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t give up on that dream, no matter how far fetched it seemed. How is a legally blind girl supposed to get a job in the Happiest Place on Earth?
Surprisingly pretty easy.
After I graduated college and spent years picking up odd jobs, including being a paraprofessional working with behavioral support kids, I eventually found myself at a crossroads after Hurricane Sandy hit and closed down the schools for a few weeks.
I laid in bed one night after the first round of eviction papers hit and thought to myself “What about that dream I had as a kid? The one Mr. Bittle wanted me to chase?”
I opened my laptop and filled out the app for Disney. And less than three months later, I found myself on a Greyhound bus with nothing but a suitcase, $80, and my cell phone, making the 21 hour trek from Philadelphia to the Sunshine State, for that dream had finally come true.
It was humble beginnings at first, my studio apartment empty for the first few months with nothing but an air mattress and a few small trinkets. My job wasn’t inside the parks like I hoped, but instead at an outlet mall in the Disney Character Warehouse selling outdated and overstocked Disney souvenirs at minimum wage, making far less than what I made as a paraprofessional.
But I worked hard to chase that dream, and eventually became a vacation planner a year later, finding myself at Epcot, the very park I fell in love with as a kid.
Life comes full circle, or shall I say Spaceship Earth?
It was hard getting to that point, upon learning that the job was very visually detailed and one wrong click could potentially ruin the guests’ day. I had a job coach for a week who brought in different magnification devices and helped me reconfigure the booth a bit to makes things easier for me to keep track of. I had my fair share of flub ups and a few angry guests to boot, but here I am, two years later, still making magic in the front ticket booths at Epcot for my guests each day.
I came to learn in my journey that my vision shouldn’t stop me from living out my dreams. As Walt Disney once said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
And courage is what makes the journey worthwhile.
Mandy Ree blogs at legallyblindbagged.wordpress.com