Disney World cast member Danny Paltjon is making waves in the state of Florida–positive waves, that is. In fact, he’s doing things that are strengthening cast members at the Florida parks, as well as the communities in which he serves, and this amazing story all began more than 20 years ago after Paltjon suffered a terrible injury.
In 2003, Danny thought “his world was over” because he was unable to move any part of his body. Danny had sustained a spinal cord injury, and he wasn’t sure what life would look like after that. But, by his own account, he soon began to realize that his injury was just the beginning of his story.
“The day I accepted myself was the day a light switch went on,” Danny said. “I was able to adapt to my injury. I continued pushing through limits one door at a time, and I have been able to achieve anything I wanted to do.”
Danny Paltjon founded the Oceans of Hope Foundation, and he’s also a Disney World cast member. He is spreading his own brand of positivity by creating accessible places, spaces, and activities for other people living with disabilities. If you ask him what his secret to success is, he’ll give you three secrets: acceptance, adaptation, and achievement.
In addition to helping guests have a magical start to their trip as a Vacation Greeter in Magic Kingdom, Danny wanted to do more to empower people with disabilities. So, he founded Oceans of Hope Foundation – a nonprofit organization right here in Florida that helps individuals with limited or no mobility experience water activities like surfing and kayaking in safe and inclusive environments.
Pairing his passion for his organization and Disney, Danny helped host an extra special event for his fellow cast in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Nearly 30 Disney VoluntEARS and Oceans of Hope volunteers teamed up to offer an exclusive adaptive surfing lesson at Typhoon Lagoon for cast members, their friends, and families.
Among those who participated were members of Enabled-FL, Disney’s Business Employee Resource Group for cast members with disabilities and their support network. The event was one chock full of inclusion and personal achievements and accomplishments. The most amazing part of the event, however, is that it was the realization of a dream–an event that was originally dreamed up by cast members for the benefit of other cast members. What a beautiful story!
“Before my turn, Danny could tell that I was nervous,” said cast member Rebecca. “We talked about my story and some of the emotions that were coming up for me – it was the first time I was publicly taking pride in my identity as someone who is disabled. It was so clear to me that Danny saw me as a whole person, and he was able to honor that in our conversation.”
Rebecca says that thanks to Danny’s encouragement, she was ready to finally brave the waves herself. And guess what? She was amazing! And as if her own personal achievements weren’t enough, the day was all the more special because her husband and her daughter were there with her to celebrate her accomplishments right alongside her.
“I’ve always had a very complex relationship with my disability,” Rebecca explained. “When I saw this event posted, I just knew that this would be a chance to build a healthier relationship with my body and gain more trust in myself. Tonight showed me that Disney knows that regardless of abilities, all cast members are beautiful, valid, helpful, and incredible.”
These are the people and experiences that Danny says keep him going–that drive him to keep “opening up doors for others.”
“Every single event that we put on at Oceans of Hope, I just sit back and see all the smiles,” Danny said. “That’s what keeps me moving forward because those memories are priceless. It means the world to me.”