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In The Belly of the Raptor

John Samuel at EAMC Event with Carbonhouse PartnersLast Friday I had the honor to present at the Event and Arena Marketing Conference (EAMC), and I could not have asked for a better time to visit the city of Toronto! For those of you who are not basketball fans, the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 13 – the very same day that I arrived.

I presented at the conference with our partner Carbonhouse, who is the industry leader in creating venue and sports websites. Brandon Lucas, who leads Business Development for Carbonhouse invited me to participate months ago, well before anyone knew that the Raptors would be in the Finals.

Brandon and I connected earlier this year when I was reaching out about accessibility on one of the sites that they built. Digital Accessibility was a subject that he was very passionate about and he immediately saw the value in using our team for accessibility testing services.

Brandon had been hosting webinars about digital accessibility already, to educate his clients, but believed that the EAMC would be a great venue to highlight the topic for a wide audience of marketers and venue managers. He also thought it would be more powerful if I could share my first-hand insight in how embracing the blind and disabled can drive ticket sales for their venues, and why an accessible website is an essential component to that success.

As I was preparing for the event, I thought I would tell a couple of different stories, that would help me get my thoughts across to the 400 plus attendees at the conference, but little did I know that one of the stories I was going to share hadn’t even happened yet!

From the moment that I landed in Toronto, you could feel the excitement in the air (and that was not just the smell of legalized marijuana!) Many of the streets were closed in preparation of the game, and it seemed like every television in the city was tuned in.

After attending an EAMC cocktail party, hosted by WWE, Brandon and several members of the Carbonhouse team and I went out searching somewhere we could grab dinner and watch the game. We were already well into the 1st quarter, and everywhere we went was packed, so we decided to head back to our hotel bar.

We were staying at the Toronto Hilton, which was just blocks away from the Scotia Bank Arena. As the game went on, the crowd at the bar got larger, and the game got more suspenseful! However, when the final buzzer went off, the crowd erupted in cheers, and many of them headed to the streets – as did we!

There was a victorious melody in the air, from the hooting of the people flocking the streets, to the honking of the lineup of cars. Although I could not see the organized chaos around me, I could definitely feel the energy from the city.

Through all the excitement of the night, there were three moments that really stood out to me, and that I will not forget.

First, I was surprised how aware and comfortable people were with the fact that I was using a white cane to walk around. People were instinctively making room for me, despite celebrating the country’s first ever NBA championship. I experienced a natural inclusivity.

Next was the moment when a person celebrating the victory on the street came up to me and asked, “How is this experience for you?” As an Accessibility Evangelist, I am constantly thinking about how we improve user experiences for all people, so I found this moment very endearing. He seemed to genuinely want to know how I felt and if I was having the same amazing experience as him – which I was! What was even more surprising is that my colleague actually caught this interaction with the Toronto Raptor’s fan on video!

Finally, as we were retreating to our hotel, to get some rest before our presentation the next morning, there was a moment when we hit a roadblock of thousands of people walking on a street that we needed to cross.  Out of nowhere, three Police Officers came up to our group and escorted us across the river of people – it was like Moses parting the Red Sea! This was an accommodation like no other that I had ever experienced, and the most amazing part was the fact that I did not even have to ask for it – the Police Officers were so attentive, that when they saw me coming up the street, they were ready to help.

I know that I visited Toronto under unique circumstances, but I cannot stop myself from singing the city’s praises. My experience is similar to the business case that I share about accessibility – if you make your website accessible for people of all abilities, people with disabilities will be more likely to spend money, be brand loyal, and recommend your company to others. With that said, I will definitely go back to Toronto with my family, recommend folks to visit, and of course share my story!Toronto Police