Accessibility awareness: Wake County tourism leaders want to ensure all are welcome

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- From area restaurants, shops, hotels and venues all over Wake County, 160 workers stepped away from the hustle of the hospitality industry to learn what it takes to make sure all people are welcomed in their businesses.

All Access Wake County, the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau's first ever accessibility awareness and training summit, drew keynote speakers Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray to the Raleigh Convention Center.



The lifelong best friends from Idaho completed a 500-mile Camino de Santiago through northern Spain, with Gray pushing his friend Skeesuck in his wheelchair the entire distance.

The pair's story depicted in the book, I'll Push You, and film of the same title, is one of perseverance they share all over the world.

"Talking about just what's possible for people with disabilities and to let everyone know, just because I am a disabled individual doesn't mean that I have to give up on life and that I have to give up on doing things that I love," Skeesuck said.

Their story spurred on local restaurateurs like Colin Crossman, owner of downtown Cary's Verandah Restaurant.

"Hearing about their story was very inspiring," he said. "We do everything we can to try to be as accessible as possible, but we wanted to make sure there's not something we're missing."

Crossman said he was particularly looking forward to the summit's breakout session on making digital content more accessible.

Julie Brakenbury with Visit Raleigh, said if one in four Americans has a disability, it just makes good business sense to find ways to better serve them, beyond what's required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"If you're not being accessible, you're missing out on a market niche," she said.

Gray, who travels the world with his best friend who uses a wheelchair due to a progressive neuromuscular disease, has seen the challenges of living with a disability firsthand.

"It's given me a greater appreciation for all the things that I often take for granted," he said. "We kind of think about it as - the ADA as a floor. It's the bare minimum. Who wants to be the bare minimum? Raleigh is a hub for food now, hub for music, hub for so many different types of entertainment. You have an opportunity to really set Raleigh apart from the rest of the country becoming a destination for people."

Attendees were also trained on disability etiquette for interacting with customers with disabilities and appropriate language and terminology to use.
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