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Two Minneapolis Hotels Spend Months Preparing for 1,500 Members
 of the American Council of the Blind and 300 Guide Dogs
By Jeannine Aquino, Star Tribune, MinneapolisMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 30, 2007 - Housekeepers at the Millennium Hotel Minneapolis on Friday were carefully placing bathroom toiletries in order: body lotion on the left, shampoo in the middle, conditioner on the right.

Across the Nicollet Mall, food servers at the Hyatt Regency were instructed to describe the location of dishes to their guests like hands on a clock, while staffers at the front desk were told to count and identify change out loud.

Those are just a few of the preparations both hotels are making to accommodate more than 1,500 members of the American Council of the Blind, which is holding its 46th annual national convention today through next Saturday in downtown Minneapolis.

"We really wanted to make sure they were comfortable at the hotel," said Mark Dallman, the Hyatt's director of sales and marketing. "Our employees want to give the same type of great service to the American Council of the Blind just like we would any other person at the hotel."

Hotel officials also didn't forget this week's four-legged guests. Both hotels set aside relief areas for the approximately 300 guide dogs expected to accompany their owners. A private company hired by the council is in charge of keeping the relief areas tidy throughout the week.

Both hotels spent months preparing for the conventioneers.

They will occupy just about all of the Hyatt's 533 rooms and nearly 80 percent of the Millennium's 321 rooms. The hotels posted Braille signs next to elevators and on vending machines, ice machines and ATMs, and even created Braille versions of their restaurant menus.

The American Council of the Blind, an advocacy group for blind and visually-impaired people, helped to prepare the hotels for their guests. They provided training sessions on how to interact with blind people and gave hotel employees tips on how to make their guests' lives a little easier while they're in Minneapolis.

The result: Front desk staffers will hand credit cards and receipts directly to guests, food servers will guide them through the menu options and housekeepers will keep personal items exactly where they found them.

Sheena Warren, a Hyatt employee, said the training gave her a better understanding of the blind. For instance, she learned that she had to let guests know the precise number of steps when she guide them up and down stairways around the hotel.

The weeklong convention will offer lectures and workshops on issues relevant to the blind community, as well as networking opportunities for members with similar backgrounds.

Ken Rodgers, chairman of the Minnesota host committee, said that there are more than 70 different special-interest and affiliate groups meeting for breakout sessions throughout the week, including the American Council of the Blind Diabetics in Action and the National Association of Blind Teachers.

Marlaina Lieberg from Seattle was sitting Friday in the Hyatt with Agnes, her two-year-old Labrador and golden retriever mix. She has been going to American Council of the Blind conventions since 1970.

"As people who are blind," she said, "we need to work together to ensure we reach equal shares of life's pie."

Jeannine Aquino -- 612-673-4146 -- jaquino@startribune.com

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Copyright (c) 2007, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

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