W. C. Duke Associates: the dot com for disability etiquette

Paul Nitz Paralympic athelete

Accessibility to communication for meetings is an ADA requirement.







Equal Rights

by Ross Weiland


To truly end discrimination against disabled attendees, the meetings industry must go beyond mere compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Opening Doors® promotes the human element usually missing in ADA compliance. "Opening Doors® is a program in disability etiquette," says Cheryl Duke, president of W.C. Duke Associates, in Woodford, Virginia, producers of the video-based training program. "It's not a feel-good program, it's practical skills. It teaches hospitality employees how to be confident serving guests with special needs.


Opening Doors® creates situations and provides activities where the able-bodied learn what it's like to have a disability. Participants learn how to escort and orient a person to a meeting room; how to handle money with the blind; how to communicate with someone hard of hearing, and how to discuss fire and safety concerns with wheelchair users.


Embassy Suites includes the Opening Doors® program as part of its customer service training. In the first fifteen months the training was used, the chain experienced a 75 percent increase in wheelchair room-nights.


Despite the success of such program-- a wait-and-see attitude permeates the meetings industry. "The industry is being reactive, concentrating on one area--physical accessibility. The customer-service aspect has not been addressed," Duke says.