Because he is blind and can't see to read a menu, Hy Cohen often orders something that he's almost certain a restaurant will have or that he has heard a companion order...
Because he is blind and can’t see to read a menu, Hy Cohen often orders something that he’s almost certain a restaurant will have or that he has heard a companion order — even if it’s not his first choice. He especially does this in noisy settings where it’s difficult for someone to read a menu aloud to him.
So Cohen is pleased that an apparently growing number of Seattle-area restaurants are providing menus in braille — though no one knows just how many and some people wish there were also more large-print menus for those with low vision.
“It’s wonderful,” Cohen says of braille menus. “It’s nice to see that a restaurant is willing to go to the extra effort to make a place more accessible.” Often, this feature will draw him back to an eatery, he says.
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Cohen, in fact, works for one of at least two local nonprofit organizations that, among other services, are helping generate more braille menus: The Louis Braille Center in Edmonds, where Cohen is an administrative assistant, and the Greater Seattle chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. For a modest fee to restaurants, both organizations transcribe print menus into braille.
Among those that have recently added such menus are the three Canyons restaurants, in Redmond, Bothell and Mountlake Terrace. (Another will open soon in Monroe.)
“It’s part of taking care of every single person who comes into this restaurant,” said Jeff Grant, manager of the Bothell Canyons. For blind diners, he said, being able to read a menu “makes the outing a lot more enjoyable.”
However, in the two months or so that the restaurant has had a braille menu, Grant said it has rarely been used.
“We’re still trying to get the word out,” he said, adding that if more restaurants provide braille menus, more customers will think to seek them out.
Based on requests for menu transcriptions, the number of eateries providing braille menus appears to be growing, said Carolyn Meyer, director of Edmonds’ Louis Braille Center. Nearly every restaurant in downtown Edmonds, for example, now provides a braille menu. Elsewhere, she said, the menus are most common in chains such as Azteca, Denny’s and Tony Roma’s.
While there’s no complete list of all such restaurants in Washington, the Seattle chapter of the NFBW lists on its Web site nearly 50 restaurants for which it has transcribed menus (see resource box). Among them: Red Robin and 13 Coins. When several others on the list were called, however, they said they had discontinued the braille menus, in some cases because of the challenge of keeping them updated.
Despite the benefits of braille menus, they aren’t the answer for all diners with severely impaired vision, say officials of agencies that serve them.
“Of the people who are blind, only about 5 to 10 percent read braille,” said Mark Adreon, an employment and outreach coordinator for the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.
Braille is taught mainly to children who were born blind or who became blind while very young, he said, yet blindness comes on much more frequently among adults, especially older adults. While some adults do learn braille, many grow frustrated with the amount of practice required to gain any reading speed, he said.
More helpful to “a lot more people” would be large-print, high-contrast menus, said Adreon, who is legally blind but able to read very large type. A large share of people with severely low vision could use such menus, he said.
The number of blind or low-vision Americans is increasing, Adreon said, largely because of an aging population and a rising incidence of diabetes, macular degeneration and other conditions that can cause blindness. While the number of blind Washingtonians isn’t known, he said, the standard estimate is that 5 to 10 percent of a population has severe vision problems.
Large-print, high-contrast menus, which would help many, could be produced at low cost to restaurants, Adreon said.
Federal or state laws require that restaurants accommodate blind customers in several ways. They must admit guide dogs, for example, and either provide braille or audio-taped menus or be willing to read a menu aloud, if needed.
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