Column: Taste of the Town: Michael Paskevich

Man tries to talk hotels, eateries into helping blind

By Michael Paskevich
Review-Journal

Gordon DeWitty began losing his sight when he was 5 years old and was declared legally blind by the age of 10.

And while the Santa Fe, N.M., resident has lived as independently as possible for the past 40 years, he has never lost sight of a goal of making life more manageable for the nation's blind and visually impaired.

Where dining comes into play pertains to DeWitty's recent efforts to get Las Vegas hotels to add Braille and large-print menus to their eateries to better serve what he calls "the least vocal minority" of Americans who have some form of physical disability.

"It is very rare for a hotel or restaurant to offer me a Braille menu or room service directory," says DeWitty. "That means if I am alone, the wait staff is burdened with the task of reading the entire menu to me. If I have a companion with me, or if I'm with a group of people, then it becomes their responsibility.

"Not only is this an inconvenience for them, but a situation like this does not meet my needs and by not being given a menu as other customers are, I am treated differently."

DeWitty formed Abilities 2000, an organization dedicated to eradicating such problems for the disabled in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law mandates accessibility to goods and services for all.

"A lot of resorts wouldn't give me the time of day (to the request for special menus)," notes DeWitty, whose group charges $150 to produce a Braille menu and a large-print menu that can be easily copied.

"It took some time but we've got the Monte Carlo, Treasure Island, the Excalibur, Stardust, Riviera, Bally's and Harrah's Las Vegas on board, which is great progress," he adds.

The Braille and large-print menus are geared primarily at high-traffic hotel coffee shops and food courts. Upscale restaurants that change menus often, sometimes daily, are less of a target for DeWitty's organization.

"Las Vegas tends to be a bit more user-friendly for people that are able-bodied," notes DeWitty, 50. "But people have to realize that the percentage of people with disabilities is still rising."

Nationwide chains such as Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar, Red Lobster and several pancake houses already have added special menus, while others such as Denny's, which caters heavily to senior citizens, remain unconvinced.

"We're making progress but it's not as good as it could be," DeWitty admits. "We're just not lobbying hard enough and the visually impaired generally don't yell out loud. But we're doing everything we can to change that."

DeWitty will return to Las Vegas soon in an effort to bring more restaurants on board and to convince hotels that room service directories in Braille and large print will further increase customer satisfaction and repeat business. A report will follow on which establishments have chosen to make dining out a more enjoyable experience for all.

Submit information to Michael Paskevich, Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, Nev. 89125-0070. You also can reach him by fax at 383-4676 or through computer e-mail at Michael_Paskevich@lvrj.com.

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