The effort was a collaboration between Disability Advocates of Kent County, DisArt and Experience Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Experience Grand Rapids (EXGR), the area’s official destination marketing organization, was presented the 2019 Governor's Award for Innovative Tourism Collaboration in the non-traditional partnership category during the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Traverse City. The award acknowledges efforts EXGR has made in collaboration with local organizations to create a better experience for people with disabilities looking to travel to Grand Rapids.

“This is a tremendous honor for our organization,” said EXGR President and CEO, Doug Small. “It reflects our core mission and the commitment of our community leaders to be welcoming and accessible for all visitors and residents.”

EXGR’s collaboration with Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC) included training EXGR staff and Grand Rapids Certified Tourism Ambassadors (CTA’s) in communication and disability decorum. EXGR also worked with DAKC to catalog over 60 local venues on their level of accessibility. The new Accessibility Navigator can be found under the newly implemented “Accessibility” landing page on the EXGR website.

Dave Bulkowski, Executive Director of Disability Advocates and Kent County Commissioner attended the Stars of the Industry awards presentation at the Governor’s Conference in Traverse City as well.

“We're honored to receive the 2019 Governor's Award for Innovative Tourism Collaboration alongside Experience Grand Rapids,” said Bulkowski.

Additional collaborations took place with DisArt, a local group committed to increasing the participation of people with disabilities through curated art exhibitions, cutting-edge public events, and organizational coaching. In EXGR’s bimonthly partner newsletter, DisArt had included a new feature segment focused on accessibility to educate the 1,000 stakeholders that receive it. EXGR also worked with DisArt to hire models for marketing photoshoots that showcase all types of diversity. In December 2018, EXGR collaborated with both DAKC and DisArt to launch a new blog series focused on accessibility.

Outside of collaborations with DAKC and DisArt, recent efforts made by EXGR to promote the area as an accessible destination include:

  • Sponsoring ArtPrize 2018 shuttles to ensure wheelchair accessibility.
  • Hosting blogger Cory Lee, who uses a wheelchair and writes about his mobility experiences for his blog: Curb Free with Cory Lee. Lee, who was named Person of the Year by New Mobility Magazine, highlighted the efforts being made by EXGR and the community at large to make Grand Rapids more accessible.
  • Investing in AudioEye for the EXGR website to help evaluate where improvements can be made through the lens of ADA requirements.

“With the ongoing growth of convention business coming from accessibility focused groups – and in our strong commitment to make Grand Rapids a welcoming city for all – we’ll never consider this project complete,” said Janet Korn, Senior Vice President of Experience Grand Rapids.

Bulkowski shared this sentiment.

“This award recognizes the first phase of this work and its innovative aspect,” said Bulkowski. “We are more than motivated about the next phases that will expand the amount of venues covered and the accessibility information available on the EXGR website through this partnership.  In fact, we are working on various aspects of this accessibility guide to make it as useful as possible for persons with disabilities and seniors and more—basically anyone with wheels (including strollers and delivery persons) will benefit from this innovation and its continuing expansion and refinements.”

About Experience Grand Rapids

Established in 1927, Experience Grand Rapids (EXGR), the areas’ official destination marketing organization, strengthens the region’s economic vitality and quality of life by marketing Grand Rapids/Kent County as a preferred visitor destination.