Dot-com CEO earns top traveler honors — and a pile of money.



For its fifth annual Woman On Her Way Contest, Wyndham International set out to find the ultimate American businesswoman, a woman who is committed to her industry and to her community, who travels often, and who could further her personal and professional goals with a $100,000 award. Heidi Van Arnem hit the jackpot.

Undoubtedly, any one of the 600 nominees who offered their stories, plans, and hopes to the Woman On Her Way judges could have used the money. But Van Arnem, chairman and CEO of iCan!, a Birmingham, Mich.-based dot-com dedicated to building an online community and resource center for people with disabilities, went home with the prize.

Wyndham's contest prescribed three ways prize money could be used: a personal assistant, a sabbatical, or business school costs. Van Arnem, 34, will use the money toward a personal assistant to help with the logistics of business travel. The 34-year-old CEO, a quadriplegic since the age of 16 when a gunshot wound severed her spine, is on the road regularly for meetings and speaking engagements at such venues as the Assistive Technology Conference at California State University, Northridge and the Hot Rod magazine Power Tour, which includes accessible vehicles for the first time this year and will take Van Arnem to 10 cities in 10 days this spring.

As a spokeswoman for people with disabilities and as a frequent conference attendee, Van Arnem's number-one piece of advice for event planners: Communicate. Find out who your audience is, and if you've got attendees with disabilities, “Don't be afraid to ask how you can accommodate them,” she says. “It has to be thought through on a case-by-case basis.” In most cases, she points out, the cost of accommodating someone is “minimal. … You have to consider each person individually. It could be you in that wheelchair, or your mother or your child. It's just a matter of communicating.”

For hotel room amenities, Van Arnem is a huge fan of cordless phones and high-speed Internet access, both of which are standard in Wyndham's “Rooms that Perform,” currently being rolled out chainwide. Van Arnem will no doubt see the inside of more Wyndham rooms this year. She and the four finalists in the contest received a week's vacation at the Wyndham of their choice (plus 25,000 American Airlines miles and $1,200 in Liz Claiborne clothing). For profiles of all the finalists, visit www.womenontheirway.com. For information on accommodating persons with disabilities at meetings, check out the iCan! Web site at www.ican.com.