Judd Jacobson was an extremely successful entrepreneur and business leader, and a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident. So when an award was created in 1992 in Jacobson’s name, it was created to honor people like Jacobson, and people like Mike Chevrette, who received the award from Courage Center on August 25.
Chevrette, also a quadriplegic from a diving accident in 1979, is in the process of creating an accessibility travel guide. The guide, which will be the first Minnesota Travel Guide for Persons with Disabilities, will be provided as a web-based tool that will be released in a printed version some time next year.
The guide will outline the accessibility of lodging facilities, restaurants, parks, theaters, museums, art galleries, historical sites, and other establishments and places throughout the state. It will include information on a range of features essential to making such places fully accessible, such as accessible parking spots, accessible door widths, appropriate bathroom layouts, fire alarms and phones for people with hearing difficulties, Braille at elevators, and the amount of space in individual rooms. Although it will initially focus on the Twin Cities metro area, Chevrette’s goal is to include the entire state in the guide.
“You’d be amazed at how many definitions there are for the words ‘wheelchair accessible’,” said Chevrette. “There are a thousand definitions.”
But let’s back up.
It was a bright fall day in Minnesota in 1999 when Chevrette unexpectedly found his calling in life. He was on his way to a restaurant in Calhoun Square in Minneapolis with a friend when he realized he wasn’t sure if the restaurant could accommodate his needs. Suddenly, he was struck with the idea of creating an accessibility travel guide for people with disabilities.
“There was a need for an in-depth resource for people with all kinds of handicaps mobility, visual, and hearing impairments,” said Chevrette. Thus was born the idea for the Minnesota Travel Guide for Persons with Disabilities. The project will make it possible for disabled people to go to the web site (http://www.accessguides.org/ ) to see if a specific restaurant, theater, museum, hotel, or other establishment can accommodate their needs. Information on the web site will be stored in a database that will allow people to search by certain criteria. The criteria, said Chevrette, will be very similar to what the Minnesota office of tourism has on their web site.
It was in November of 1999 that Chevrette told Deluxe Corporation, where he had been employed as a computer
programmer, that he would be leaving to start his own business. Instead of letting him go, Deluxe offered to back the project, paying Chevrette to work full-time on it. Last year, Deluxe split into two companies, Deluxe and Efunds, which represented the electronic funds component of Deluxe. Chevrette now works for Efunds, which has picked up the cost of the project.
“Mike is a role model of grace, courage, and good humor for all who know him,” said Gus Blanchard, CEO of Efunds.
Chevrette got to know Blanchard while serving on the Corporate Diversity Council at Deluxe. “In the face of more challenge than most of us will ever face, he brightens the world of all those who come in contact with him,” said Blanchard. “His outlook is always positive; his desire to help others genuine and always evident.”
In the research Chevrette has conducted so far, he said he found that although there were places where people could find some information, “there really was no centralized place you could go to find it.”
Chevrette is currently in the process of sending out thousands of surveys to every facility he can list in the guide. So far he said he hasn’t received any negative feedback from the surveys he’s collected. “Companies that are accessible and fill out the surveys are opening themselves up to a huge, untapped market,” he said. Chevrette illustrated this by telling the story of a trip he took to Disney World with six family members. He said every hotel, restaurant, and transportation company that accommodated his needs made money off seven people, not just one. “Most people with disabilities don’t travel alone,” he said.
The travel guide is part of Access For All, a nonprofit organization Chevrette started to provide information on accessibility to persons with disabilities and mature travelers. The organization, Chevrette emphasized, is not an advocacy organization, but is educational in scope, with the goal of providing complete and accurate information to people with disabilities who want to travel in Minnesota.
The entire $5,000 award Chevrette received this month will go to Access For All, with approximately $1,000 going toward continued development of the web site. Chevrette will be working with Urban Planet, an Internet solutions company, to fully develop the travel site. Urban Planet developed ExploreMinnesota.com, and there will be links between the two sites for added convenience.
When asked what he thought the biggest obstacle for people with disabilities is, Chevrette said, “There are a lot of barriers you have to break down. If you can get people to know you rather than your disability, you’re breaking down the societal barrier of people’s attitudes towards persons with disabilities. Your life at any time can be difficult or easy; it’s a matter of how you adapt. You have to see the good in every situation.”
Access For All is recognized as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, and the organization has received support in the form of donations and in-kind contributions from Deluxe, Efunds, and Carlson Companies. Chevrette hopes to raise $300,000 over the next two years. In addition, the organization needs volunteers to send out surveys and questionnaires, conduct on-site surveys, and help enter information into the database. Chevrette can be contacted at (651) 787-2790, or email@example.com.