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Cochlear Implants at Amusement Parks – Guest Post by Kaitlyn Mielke

May 4th, 2011 by | Tags: , | 3 Comments »

Rachel Chaikof on a roller coaster.

Cochlear Implant Online is featuring a guest blog post by Kaitlyn Mielke, a bilateral cochlear implant recipient.  She shares advice on experiencing the thrills of amusement park rides.

The sun is shining… and flowers are blooming…. And around the corner, the smells of popcorn, funnel cakes and cotton candy fills the air amidst funky-shaped balloons. In the horizon, the steely pillars of roller coasters support the roaring cars as they speed over the heads of the multitudes of fun-loving people. Be it Disneyland (or Disney World or the international Disney parks); one of the many Six Flags parks or even your hometown’s State Fair – the time of the year has arrived!

The prospect of riding the attractions found at many theme parks and amusement parks can be enticing to the CI wearer – yet there are some qualms that hold us back. Questions fill our heads as we join the miles-long lines for everything – from Dumbo’s Flight with the two-years-olds to the death-defying inverted roller coasters that causes one to lose their lunch.

Riding with a CI processor in the olden days was simple with the bodyworn harness – the harness straps kept the CI processor secure and under a T-shirt. The cord acted like a tether cord – if the ear fell off, I just slapped it back on. With the advancement to behind-the-ear processors, it became a bit more tricky with less material to secure.  Some rides I went on with the body-worn CI, I wouldn’t venture with the BTE – and vice versa, especially with splashy rides.

Which rides are safe to wear my CI processors?

Using Disney parks as an example, the dark-rides and kid-friendly rides are relatively smooth and CI-friendly (a must as most are narrated by disembodied voices.)  As an added bonus, those rides are HC-compatible. Guests can borrow a handheld device akin in size to a Nintendo DS that provide captioning for those types of rides. With this in mind, go on and enjoy Peter Pan’s Flight and Snow White’s Scary Adventure.

(Debunking one urban myth – the magnetized wheels of the PeopleMover (currently Tomorrowland Transit Authority at Disney World and the now-closed PeopleMover at Disneyland) does NOT affect CI processors though there may be an intermittent buzz at the loading station).

One step up leads to the thrilling rides (ie the dropping elevator at Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney parks). As long as they don’t provide too bumpy of a ride, they should be fine. (in the case of Tower of Terror, it may feel like your processors are jumping on your ear but a steady hand holding it in place will ease qualms).

Those junior roller coasters are the tops of Disney parks – from Space Mountain to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Some CI wears pack ‘em up while others brave the twists and turns. Keep in mind, should they fly off, it is difficult to recover them as operatives will have to shut down the ride and carefully scour the “deserts” or god forbid, the metal magnet-friendly supports of Space Mountain with the lights on to find the wayward processor. (Once, a friend rode Space Mountain and the processor flew off and stuck to a metal support in the middle of an intricate tangle of metal that required a park operator to crawl among the catwalks to reach it).  Wearing CI processors are a hit-or-miss with those types.

Big Roller Coasters that Defy Gravity – those at Six Flags that meets the criteria of being the biggest, highest and fastest – are also the ones proven to cause guests to lose their lunches – and their processors. With those types, the best bet may be to stash-and-ride.

What precautions can I take when wearing processors on the rides?

Most incidents of processors-flying-off come from rides that have a high bump factor (intensity), not necessarily speed-based. I wore my processors with ease on Test Track (Epcot) and it withstood the “speed test” in this crash-dummy inspired ride (though one might want to hang on during the “turning and braking test”.)  The true test occurred when I wore my processors on the Rock’n’Roller roller coaster (Disney Hollywood Studios), an indoors roller coaster which takes riders from 0 to 60 mph in seconds and send them flying up a straight wall before launching into a series of inversions – all in the dark with illuminated street signs pointing the way (or so they say). For a ride pumping Aerosmith music, I wanted the total experience (riding in the dark without sound doesn’t measure up to having music blasted into your head from  headrest-mounted speakers).

For this foray, I took several precautions. First, I slipped a rubberband around the battery compartment of my Cochlear Freedoms. Then, I slipped a snapping metal barrette through the rubberband. (bobby pins work too but they aren’t as secure as the snapping barrettes). I slipped another barrette onto the cable of the telecoil. After this elaborate setup, I pinned the setup to my hair (in a pony tail for a better grip. Boys – you’re out of luck with this set-up unless you have long hair!) Not to be outdone, I wore a jacket with a hood and pulled it up to protect my processors from the over-head harness. (An alternate setup may include cloth headbands, but again, not as secure as the snapping barrettes).

And… off we went! Twisting and turning through the darkness, my head rattled around as it slammed into the over-head shoulder harness. Instead of holding on the hand grips, my head held onto the harness near my head should the processor decide to fly off – which they did despite being secured with barrettes. Luckily, the processor only slipped off my ear and the telecoil disk flopped around. The barrettes did their job – yet I couldn’t fix it during the ride as I slammed around in my restraint. The second time I rode the ride, I bagged-and-stashed the processor for a peace of mind.

As compared to the rough-and-tumble roller coasters, the Matterhorn (Disneyland), a bobsled coaster proved CI-friendly as the bobsleds slid down the faux-mountain relatively smooth. (Worth it to hear the yeti grunt!)

How can they be stored safely if not wearing the processors?

Your best bet is to hand them off to a non-riding companion. If such a person is not present as everyone is riding, plastic-bag it up or place it in a CI case and stash it in a bag. For the rides that don’t allow bags, there are fingerprint-operated lockers (especially evident at Universal Studios) – or be smart like me and research the parks beforehand and wear a jacket, sweater, pants, capris or shorts with a zipped pocket. Before boarding the car, slip the processor(s) into a zippered pocket (Not open, not partially buttoned – zippers. Processors can – and will – bounce around – and out your pocket if not secured with zippers.)

What about water rides?

Water rides are the epitome of a hot and humid day. What better way to cool off than splashing through a watery finale on rides with water elements? There are two main types of water rides – the barely-there splash (i.e. Splash Mountain for everyone NOT in the front seat) and the dunk-wet types (Kaligari River Rapids at the Disney Animal Kingdom , Grizzly River Rapids at Disney California Adventure, Dudley Do-Right Ripshaw Falls at Universal Studios Florida) where passengers get splashed and soaked. CI wearers  have gone on both – with and without processors. For the longest time when I rode Splash Mountain (Disney parks), I stashed my CI processor in a Ziploc Baggie and stashed it in a bag or with a non-riding friend. When the Cochlear Freedom was released, I opted to try it on as it was marketed as “water-resistant” (i.e. splash-resistant). Knowing the ropes, I elected to ride in the middle (the front gets the worst while the back gets the backdraft, those in the middle get relatively misty). During the “floating-along phase”, it was especially thrilling to be able to hear “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” in its glory. Nearing the big-drop finale, I cowered in my seat, unsure of the splash factor (Murphy law states that when one does not wear a processor, they stay dry; and when they finally do, they will get wet). As an added precaution, I held a hand onto the processor as the log went over the edge. Splash? Of course – but a refreshing misty drizzle as opposed to a bucket-dunking splash.

With the River Rapids, it was a different story. After seeing friends get soaked while wearing hearing aids, I chickened out in the line and double-bagged my processors and stuck them in the bag. For a friend that did wear theirs, they got wet. Fortunately, the processor still operated. (A tip – for the splash-to comes, lean forward towards the center hub. That way, water makes impact with your back instead of your head).  One could wear a swim cap with the processors air-locked in bags or Ziplocs – but that would appear a bit a corny when standing in line for such a ride. For those brave enough, go for the swim cap : )

For the ultimate soakers – ditch them. (I.e. if they suggest wearing swimsuits – take that as a clue to hand the processors to someone else).

Have there been accidents while wearing the processor(s) on rides?

There have been accidents reported by CI users when wearing their processors on the rides – especially the more thrill-seeking ones. In one case, the wearer boarded a scrambler-type ride (groups of seats attached to an arm connecting to the main support. The ride spins the passengers as the center support turns. ) and her processor flew off her head. The person could do nothing until the ride came to a full stop, only then did she ask the operators to look for the processor. After a lengthy search, they found the partially-crushed processor magnetized in a crevice of the center support.

In another case during an excursion to Disneyland, the CI wearer joined a group of friends on the Indiana Jones Adventure ride. For those unfamiliar with the ride, the passengers board a large jeep-like vehicle with seats for 12-16. They ride through a series of bumpy and twisting paths in the mid-dark. Every ride is unique with no two alike bumps or pitching. During an especially elaborate bump-twist-pitch, the passenger lurched forward and the CI processor flew off somewhere into the dark-engulfed faux rocks. For this passenger, they had to wait until the ride was over to query about the missing processor. Their group was asked to wait until a good time to “stop” the ride to turn the lights on to search for the processor. They ended up spending hours at the back gate of the ride waiting – time that could be used in riding other rides at Disneyland.

EDITOR’S NOTE – RACHEL: Click here to read about an incident at Cochlear Celebration this past February.

Whether or not you choose to secure or stash, remember that every experience is unique. Some processors might stay on during particular rides while others might have them fly off. Some might get wet during Splash Mountain while friends remain bone-dry.

When in doubt, stash the processors.  : )


Judy Schwarzmeier

May 4, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Other helpful precautions to try would be wig tape and the SnugFit thingie that is designed to hold the processor on the ear better.


May 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I have had my share of near misses of amusement parks mishaps between my son and I!
I used to put mine and my son’s CIs in my pants pockets on the dry ride. I was getting out of the ride at Space Mountain one time and it my BTE fell in and it went through the exit tunnel as my son tried to stop it! We were SO lucky that the custodian was able to retrieve it on the other end! I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I saw her come back with the broom and dustpan holding my BTE! That was when I had one implant and hearing aid was useless for me!
My son also lost his during go kart racing and eventually found it in three places….the undercarriage of the car was where his coil was found!
Just be prepared and follow many of the suggestions writing in the blog above!


May 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm

My son has bilateral ci’s and we go to Disneyland a lot. We always sit in the back on Splash Mountain because we were told that was the least wet area. So far no problems. He wears his processors on all of the rides he goes on there. I do bring a zip up sweatshirt with a hood for him to wear on fast or wet rides. I figure the hood might catch a processor if it flies off, and one of us holds it tighter around his head during big splashes just to be safe. Also, he’s worn his processors on a dunk ride at Sea World, but I bought him one of the ponchos they sell and had him hold it tight under his chin and lean forward. Since many people buy and wear those anyway, it didn’t make him stand out at all.