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bill and cheryl dukeBill and Cheryl Duke

wc duke offices W. C. Duke Associates offices are on historic Ormesby Plantation, established in 1715.

I have discovered I always have choices and sometimes it's only a choice of attitude.

Judith M. Knowlton

When not busy growing their business, the Dukes have varied interests. Bill has been a volunteer firefighter and rescue squad member for over 30 years. He has a BS from Virginia Tech in Mathematics, and Master of Educational. Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Cheryl has served on the board of directors for the disAbility Resource Center and is in the process of writing two history books,one about an Appalachian family feud,and the other is the history of a Civil-War era,German-Jewish immigrant family in Virginia. She has a BA in International Relations from Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia and a Master of Humanities from the University of Richmond.

Company History As Told By Our President

We are a family business with our clients becoming family members. We have the privilege of forging not only business relationships, but also enduring friendships. This personal approach to business developed out of our personal and professional experiences.

Who We Are And What Makes Us Tick

The principals in W. C. Duke Associates are my husband William (Bill), me (Cheryl), our son William Paul (Paul), and sometimes our daughter, Caitlin.

Our company was born out of frustration of trying to live an ordinary life with a disability. Bill has a hearing impairment since childhood. Paul uses a motorized wheelchair and is respirator dependent because of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. And I am a person of short stature and have a mobility impairment due to degenerative arthritis. Caitlin jokingly says that her disability is having to put up with the rest of us, but in reality, she has hearing loss that she inherited from her dad.

Making Lemonade

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 46th birthday in this past 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 took wonderful family vacations, traveling all over the U. S. and Canada. You have to be determined to travel when you have a disability.


van filled with luggage and supplies

 Look at the luggage and  supplies we take with us  in our van. This for a  short trip. Instead of  playing Where's Waldo? we play,  "Where's Paul?" So far  we haven't lost  him or  left him behind.




We also discovered that people were uncomfortable being around persons having disabilities. Whenever we went out, Paul would get stares. He put a sign on his wheelchair saying "It's OK to stare. I know I'm handsome." Parents would pull their children away in fear when their child came up to ask Paul a question. I guess they were afraid Paul was contagious. Paul has a dry sense of humor. He would zip up to the parent and say, "Your child won't catch what I have, unless you won't let me answer his (or her) question. Then it takes about six weeks for the symptoms to appear" The child would ask what he wanted to know, and Paul would patiently explain why he used wheels to get around. I would stay back and marvel at how Paul quietly educated and advocated on a one-to-one basis.

We came with the idea in 1988 about helping people become comfortable being around persons with disabilities. So we put our life experiences to work, coupled with our many years combined teaching and education administration experience, and developed the Opening Doors® program.

Becoming Gentle Advocates

We became active in advocating for the Americans with Disabilities Act and were so elated when it was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in July, 1991. We realized that there was a huge opportunity for our type of training in disability etiquette and implementing the human side of the ADA. But we didn't know there would be such a long learning curve for businesses to understand the need for our services.

Our big opportunity came that same year. Paul wrote letters to the CEO's and Vice Presidents of Sales of every lodging chain in the U. S. He brought to their attention the important market of persons with disabilities and giving some suggestions on how companies could better serve them. We mailed over 500 letters and waited anxiously. We received one rely in the mail from a budget chain, saying it was a great idea but they had no money for such a scheme. We were ahead of our time in promoting the disability market.

The only other reply Paul received was a phone call from Hervey Feldman, President of Embassy Suites Hotels, inviting us to come to Dallas and talk to company executives about our ideas. To this day, we have no idea why Paul's letter struck a chord in Mr. Feldman's heart, but the rest is history. Embassy Suites Hotel became the first lodging chain to incorporate disability etiquette into their staff training requirements. They gave us carte blanche to do a video-based program. A new advocate came into the company with Clyde Culp, the new Embassy Suites president. He became the first of our "Embassy Angels" who promoted our program within the hospitality industry. The "Embassy Angels" became our ambassadors as they went to other companies.

Frankly, much of our business comes from word-of-mouth advertising. Some of it comes from Department of Justice settlements from companies, but we select those who want to go beyond the terms of the settlement. It is our company name and reputation that is on the line. If our clients don't look good, we don't look good.

For over 20 years we have been helping businesses develop their own Opening Doors® programs, while having generic products for the hospitality industry. In the process we are honored that we have been recognized as the leader in our specialized field. No one does exactly what we do, or the way that we do it. If you haven't yet seen our client list, please take time to do so.

Bill and I have been able to use the abilities we gained as classroom teachers and translate it into corporate training. Bill had students illegally invading his advanced math and physics classes because he was so entertaining. For me, there was nothing more demanding and challenging than a group of students whose brains are on hold while their hormones were running rampant as my 20 years with 7th and 8th graders taught me. I lived to tell about it and kept most of my sanity. The result is that we both learned to teach and instruct in lively, creative ways, and we bring these insights into corporate training. So between just the two of us, we have 60 years of instructional and corporate training experience. Gee, no wonder we have so many gray hairs!

Of course Bill, Paul, and I don't do this alone. We have been blessed with our "brain trust," a highly dedicated and knowledgeable group of professionals who happen to have disabilities. Feel free to browse through their profiles. They bring a huge range of expertise to our company. What makes our programs different is that they are from the disability perspective. We teach company personnel what their customers with disabilities want them to know. After all, we are going to be using your products and services as well.

A special honor was being selected to be the first family to receive the Victory Award, which was presented at the White House luncheon by Mrs. Barbara Bush.


 Left to Right, Mrs. Bush, Caitlin, Paul,  Bill, and Cheryl
 Photo: Courtesy of the White House




We have grown from a family business to an international company considered to have the best customer service training programs concerning persons with disabilities. (Did I mention our program is used by businesses in Canada and Israel?) Companies use our programs because they get results, not just in customer service solutions, but also in employing persons with disabilities. We are committed to excellence because our family name and personal reputation are on the line with our products and services. You have my personal guarantee.

With warm regards,

Cheryl Duke