From the Disney Parks Blog and written by: Sasha Azoqa
As Kayla Cortez sang brightly on the iconic Main Street, U.S.A., train station steps in Disneyland park for her first time in the annual Disneyland Resort Candlelight Ceremony, she looked down to see a button nose and two eyes looking back up at her as her best friend and service dog Briar Rose performed right alongside with her.
Kayla, who works as a character specialist at Disney California Adventure park, grew up as a trained vocalist and has always dreamt of performing with the Disneyland cast choir. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” said Kayla. “[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 part of the disabled community for the past five years and her service dog, Briar Rose, has been with her along her journey. “Briar Rose is an extension of me, so having all of me included in this experience is really special,” said Kayla.
As a type 1 diabetic, Kayla always has Briar Rose by her side, to alert her when Kayla’s glucose levels are out of balance. “Briar Rose is faster, better and more accurate than any technology out there and is able to smell the chemical changes in my body,” said Kayla.
Erin Quintanilla, Blossom, Kayla Cortez and Briar Rose in their gold choir robes
As soon as Kayla found out that she and Briar Rose made it into the cast choir, she shared the exciting news with fellow ENABLED Business Employee Resource Group (BERG) leader and accessibility manager Erin Quintanilla, who has been partnering with the costuming department for the past 13 years to create a custom-fit wardrobe for her service dogs. Erin uses a wheelchair and is also accompanied by her service dog, Blossom, and has been part of the ENABLED BERG, a cast member resource group that supports and advocates for people with disabilities and their allies, since its inception 15 years ago.
Briar Rose and Blossom wait for further instructions at their robe fitting.
Erin worked with Kayla to partner with the Disney Live Entertainment costume production team at the Disneyland Resort to ensure Briar Rose could have a choir robe just like Blossom. “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,” said Kayla. Costuming worked closely with Kayla and Briar Rose to create custom-fit robes that would adapt to both of their needs while remaining uniform with the rest of the cast.
Costuming created a slit on the side of Kayla’s robe, so Briar Rose’s leash could hang across Kayla’s body, but not interfere with the outside of the robe. “That way I look the same as everyone else, but I’m still able to have Briar Rose close by,” said Kayla. Additionally, the slit in Kayla’s robe gave access to Kayla’s insulin pump and items needed to manage her sugars during the performance.
Mary Lou Cox measures Briar Rose for her choir robe
“It’s very rewarding that we can take the time and energy to help people that need an accommodation,” said Mary Lou Cox, pictured above, area manager for Disney Live Entertainment costuming workroom in Disneyland park.
As Mary Lou reflected on the experience of supporting Kayla and Briar Rose with their accommodations, she shared the importance of creating inclusive and equitable costumes for cast members. “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,” said Mary Lou. “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.”
“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.”
You may also enjoy: Candlelight Processional Celebrity Narrators 2023
The Disneyland Resort Candlelight Ceremony was held on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 and is an annual tradition beginning in 1958. Celebrity guest narrators read portions of Christmas classics with support from choir members and instrumentalists composed of Disneyland Resort cast members, Walt Disney Studios employees and Walt Disney Imagineers.
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