have discovered I always have choices
and sometimes it's only a choice of attitude.”
Judith M. Knowlton
In 1987 the Duke Family founded The Opening Door, Inc., an organization dedicated to access and independence through information. Our organization was born out of frustration of trying to live an ordinary life with a disability.
Dad Bill has a hearing disability since childhood. Mom Cheryl is a person of short stature and has a mobility disability due to degenerative arthritis. She now uses a motorized scooter.
Our 41-year old son, Paul, uses a motorized wheelchair, is respirator dependent, and has a feeding tube to eat because of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Our daughter, Caitlin, is also a founding partner of the organization. She began working with our projects when she was 12 years old. She jokingly says that her disability is having to put up with the rest of us, but in reality, she has progressive hearing loss that she inherited from her dad.
Our individual disabilities were minor compared to what we faced in parenting a child with a severely progressive disability. Paul was diagnosed at age 6. The physician cried himself when he told us the diagnosis and prognosis. Paul had one of the worst kinds of Muscular Dystrophy, and he would be lucky to live to be 18 years old. It was devastating for us. We made the choice that Paul had this disease, but this disease did not have Paul.
We were going to do as many of things we had planned to do as we could, and not let his disability limit his life experiences. Paul has this innate strength of spirit and resolve that had him show us so much about courage and determination. He is a remarkable man. Oh, by the way, he celebrated his 40th birthday in October.
When Paul went into a wheelchair at age 12, the Duke Family's world underwent a drastic change. We found out that accessibility is in the eye of the beholder and that we didn't have the luxury of spontaneity and flexibility in our everyday life. We became hesitant to go to unfamiliar places or ones that haven’t been recommended by our peers. It was a real chore to call each place we wanted to go and ask our list of accessibility questions. Our motto became “Know before we go.” We thought it would be wonderful to have an easy source of access information so we could just get up and go with a minimum of planning. This was the genesis for the Opening Door.
Accessible Virginia is the result of our wanting to help others with hearing, vision, mobility or cognitive disabilities, plus their families, friends. or caregivers, enjoy an afternoon activity, a night out, a weekend getaway, a walk in the park, or a serious shopping expedition. We know that information about accessibility has a direct effect on quality of life. This is an aspect that only those of us in the disability community understand and appreciate.
Remember, those of you without disabilities are TABs — Temporarily Able Bodied. If you live long enough, you will have a disability in your lifetime. So this site really provides access for all.
The Opening Door, Inc. is a nonprofit organization whose mission to ...
- Promote accessibility and independence throug information.
- Develop Web sites and guides on access data for persons with disabilities to improve their quality of life.
- Consult with other states to help develop Web sites and guides using our innovative format.
- Work cooperatively with businesses to create an awareness of a large, lucrative consumer market--the 54 million Americans with disabilities plus their families and friends.
The Duke Family continues to expand our Virginia Web site. We are developing recreational itineraries, podcasts, and blogs. We also want to work with organizations and agencies in other states to help them develop Web sites or guides similar to Virginia's. The following guides have been authorized to use our distinctive format:
- Visit Accessible Florida (under development)
- New Mexico Guide (out of print)
- Minnesota Web site ( being revised)
- Tuscaloosa County, Alabama Guide
- Peterborough,Ontario, Canada Guide
If you like the comprehensiveness of Accessible Virginia, please contact us for information on licensing our copyrighted accessibility questionnaires and templates for developing access Web sites or state/local guides. The Opening Doors, Inc.'s format has been registered and copyrighted internationally.
In January, 2004, Virginia Tourism and The Opening Door, Inc. received an award from SATH (Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality) at their World Congress on Travelers with Disabilities in Miami. It is the first award ever presented by SATH for such a publication and was given because The Virginia Travel Guide for Persons with Disabilities (now Accessible Virginia) has been a pioneering effort in providing comprehensive accessibility information on travel and tourism for persons with disabilities.
SATH is an educational, non-profit, membership organization whose mission is to raise awareness of the needs of all travelers with disabilities, remove physical and attitudinal barriers to free access and expand travel opportunities in the United States and abroad.