Kayla Cortez works as a character specialist at Disney California Adventure. Having grown up as a trained vocalist, she always had one dream in mind: to perform with the Disneyland California cast choir.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Kayla said. “[As soon] as I was able to attend the auditions, I forced one of my friends to come with me, and we sang ‘I See the Light’ from Tangled.”
Kayla has been a part of the disabled community for the past five years, and as a person with Type 1 diabetes, she always has a faithful friend by her side–her service dog, whom she lovingly named Briar Rose, the name Princess Aurora uses in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty when the three Good Fairies take her to live in a cottage in the glen to escape the evil villain Maleficent.
Her faithful companion stays close to Kayla so she can alert her when her glucose levels are getting too high or too low.
“Briar Rose is faster, better, and more accurate than any technology out there and is able to smell the chemical changes in my body,” Kayla explained.
But Kayla has never let her diabetes or her disability keep her from her dream of singing with the cast choir at Disneyland. Her dream was so important to her–and so is Briar Rose–so she joined the two together, and the dynamic duo of Kayla and Briar Rose both auditioned for the cast choir.
“Briar Rose is an extension of me, so having all of me included in this experience is really special,” said Kayla.
The moment Kayla got the exciting news that she and Briar Rose had made it into the cast choir, she immediately shared her news with Erin Quintanilla, a fellow ENABLED Business Employee Resource Group leader. Erin has partnered with Disneyland’s costuming department for more than a decade to help design custom-fit clothing for service dogs to wear when they are with cast members in the park. Erin is also a member of the cast choir.
ENABLED BERG is a resource group for cast members with disabilities. It was started 15 years ago and offers support and advocacy for those with disabilities. Kayla’s friend Erin uses a wheelchair and also has a service dog by her side. Erin and her dog Blossom have been part of the ENABLED BERG for years.
Erin and Kayla have worked together with the costume production team at Disney Live Entertainment at Disneyland Resort in California to see that Briar Rose could have a choir robe made for her–just like Erin’s dog Blossom has. And then Kayla realized that an accessible choir robe might help her too.
“It all began with Miss Briar Rose getting measured for her own choir robe,” said Kayla. “While we were at her fitting and they were measuring her, we started to talk about my needs. I didn’t even realize or think about how an accessible robe would be helpful [for me], and once we started discussing it, I got really excited. It feels so unique and special to be a part of the Candlelight experience from a disabled person’s perspective.”
Disneyland Costuming worked with Kayla and her service dog so they could create special custom-fit choir robes that would meet their needs while allowing them to wear robes that were uniform with the rest of the performers in the cast choir.
To create a choir robe that meets Kayla’s needs, costuming first cut a slit on the side of the robe so that Briar Rose’s leash could lay across Kayla’s body and not interfere with the rest of the robe. The slit also gives her access to her insulin pump, as well as items she needs to manage her sugars during the choir performance.
“That way I look the same as everyone else, but I’m still able to have Briar Rose close by,” said Kayla.
“It’s very rewarding that we can take the time and energy to help people that need an accommodation,” said Mary Lou Cox, the area manager for Disney Live Entertainment‘s costume workroom at Disneyland. “It’s not just me, but the entire team and workroom here that are really willing and happy to help to make somebody feel good and included. We want to make it right and we want to work with cast the best we can to make them a costume that is part of the show and matches the area they work in.”
Kayla says the whole experience has been a very positive one.
“It’s been a really simple, easy, and positive experience supported by amazing humans and animals,” said Kayla. “Having [this] support is unlike any other, especially when you don’t have to ask. It’s really special when people fill the gaps before you realize you need the help.”