This July, Spokane, Wash., hosted the 29th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which brought 620 athletes, along with about 1,200 friends and family, to the town of about 460,000 residents. Even in a much larger metropolitan area, such an event would pose special challenges. For starters, "no city has 620 accessible hotel rooms in one tight little package," notes Keith Backsen, vice president and director of the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau. Most of the athletes stayed at the 591-room Davenport; the property had to lower the beds in each of its rooms and remove bathroom doors to accommodate wheelchairs.
The CVB also worked with the local veterans hospital to educate businesses about what would be required to welcome the athletes. One clever promotion had the bureau distribute a yardstick and flyer that outlined tips to create a wheelchair-friendly environment. Among them:
• Put products at arm's length.
• Consider what can be seen at eye level from a wheelchair.
• Be sure aisles are 36 inches wide for wheelchair access.
• At restaurants, remove chairs from designated tables and waiting areas to provide space for patrons in wheelchairs.
Meanwhile, Spokane's transit authority took 20 buses off-line and removed all the seats to provide the games' official transportation.
The effort was worth it, says Backsen: "It was great to hear feedback from the attendees about how friendly our community was, and how everyone was prepared for their being in town."