Call it a woof deck.
conventioneers checked into the Chicago Marriott Downtown last
weekend for national convention
of The Foundation Fighting Blindness,
they brought along an added challenge
for the hotel--Seeing Eye dogs.
The Marriott, in
turn, put in a fenced-off turf and cement dog-walk area
on its 9th-floor patio, high
above North Michigan Avenue, with a
of the surrounding skyscrapers.
"We tried to make it
seem like a park," said the hotel's general manager
John W. Adams, taking a visitor on
a tour of a space that also included wood
benches, water bowls, a fountain and a number of rocks to
The hotel, Adams
explained, does not usually welcome dogs.
On the other hand, it
is company policy to figure out how to be helpful
For the foundation's
convention, "VISIONS 2002 Chicago: Seeing the
Light," that meant training the
staff to understand the needs of
visitors who spent
three days covering such topics as living skills, genetic
technology and the possibilities of implantable microelectrode
chips to restore lost vision.
As Brian Boucher, the
hotel's senior event manager, explained, staff
members were urged to wait to
be asked before offering assistance.
told not to move objects in rooms during daily
Guest keys were
notched so sight-impaired guests would know which side
plastic room key to insert into a
lock. Guest rooms were supplied with
vibrating alarm clocks, to be placed under pillows.
Along with menus in
Braille, the dining room was set with dark linens,
to make the white cutlery
easier to see. In the main lobby,
bright orange tape
was put down on the edges of stairs leading in from
And room service
menus carried an added entry for the three days: dog
"At other conferences
I've been to across the country, they don't have
grass. You have to go outside on
pavement or, in New York, in between
parked cars. This is much
better," said Bannister, who spoke at a
on behalf of CareerConnect, an online employment resource
operated by the
American Foundation for the
Much of the work at
the convention was aimed at getting people with
vision or hearing problems out
of what foundation staffers called
"the what-am-I-going-to-do? phase" and
into creative coping.
"There's a stereotype
of blindness, which I once held myself, that it
disables you in more ways than it, in
fact, does," Gordon Gund, a real
estate mogul and co-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers
basketball team, recently noted in an
interview in Harvard Magazine, his alumni journal.
Gund, who became
blind in 1970 from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetically
inherited eye disease, founded The
Foundation Fighting Blindness in
In three decades, the
foundation has raised $160 million to find causes,
treatments, preventions and cures
for a range of retinal degenerative
diseases which, in some way, affect the lives of 15
realized I needed to make some changes 10 years ago,"
noted one speaker, Becky
Andrews, now a counselor with the
patient support program
of the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah.
That happened, she
said, when she walked into a stop sign--and got a
retinitis pigmentosa, she learned to use a cane "before I
had to" and to "protect my head
with my arm when walking." She urged her
audience to "tell people what you have. It releases the
stress of keeping
"Be assertive, but
with a sense of humor," Andrews advised, "and always
leave your keys in the same place."