A few years ago, VisitDallas became the first destination marketing organization to create a diversity and inclusion team, in order to promote the city as the ideal convention location for multicultural, multigenerational, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups, in addition to veterans and disabled people.
Working closely with the VisitDallas sales and experience teams, as well as the Dallas Sports Commission, the diversity and inclusion team leverages its expertise and community partnerships to create customized experiences for each visiting group’s varied interests and unique needs.
Going the Extra Mile
When the American Council of the Blind (ACB) had its annual conference for more than 1,000 people in Dallas in 2015, the city’s visitors bureau began working with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) one year out from the conference. “This allowed DART to provide special services including paratransit, D-Link and city buses, and light rail,” explained VisitDallas’ Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Cheryl Richards. “DART Rail operators, staff, and volunteers were on high alert to assist the ACB attendees as they approached cross-walks or the trains.” The D&I team also held trainings for volunteers to prepare them for the conference.
Attendees included blind and visually impaired entrepreneurs, students, teachers, attorneys, musicians, and rehabilitation professionals — along with 400 seeing-eye dogs— who came from all over the world to Dallas for the convention. The event is for “people looking for work, and people who use all kinds of adaptive technology, including digital and braille products; elderly people who are just learning to live with vision loss; and young people attending college and just starting new careers,” according to Richards. Attendees also “are sighted spouses, family members and friends, and sighted professionals who work in the field of vision loss.”
The city of Dallas partnered with VisitDallas to provide Audible Pedestrian Signal Lights near and around the area where conference attendees would travel for access to transportation, attractions, and restaurants. “The Greater Dallas Restaurant Association participated on the VisitDallas Integration team and was helpful in filtering information to local restaurants,” Richards said. “Those restaurants in proximity to the hotel were asked to translate their menus to braille and to prepare large-print menus for those persons that were visually impaired. And restaurants were accommodating to all seeing-eye dogs.”
In addition, VisitDallas worked with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARs) to assist with the development and implementation of the Visual Awareness Training for city leaders and other partners of the DMO. They prepared more than 250 locals on how to interact with people who are blind and visually impaired and how to act around the guide dogs.
“Thanks to VisitDallas, several months prior to the convention, I was able to meet with individuals from the airports, the Go Yellow Checker shuttle, DART, and the Dallas Police,” said Janet Dickelman, the meeting planner for the American Council of the Blind. “This provided an opportunity to explain the unique needs of our convention and allowed entities to prepare for our arrival. We were also able to hold many training classes for various staff members. VisitDallas stayed in touch prior to and during the convention to make sure our needs were being met. Everyone I worked with was gracious, helpful, and willing to go the extra mile to make our convention a success.”