Ideas illuminate ways to serve vision-impaired customers better

Posted: Monday, April 03, 2006

Imagine, after tripping over a few stairs, you enter a new restaurant. You navigate an unfamiliar path through the darkly lit restaurant trying to keep up with the busy waiter. As you do this you bump into a chair and then a cart spilling over with dirty dishes, making an embarrassing clatter. When you are finally seated the waiter hands you a menu you cannot decipher. Humiliated, you have to ask the waiter to read it to you. The waiter is aggravated and by the 4th item you resign yourself to having something you don’t really want. Refilling your water the waiter puts it in a different place on the table, causing you to knock it over. You can smell the food in front of you, yet you have no idea where anything is on your plate.

This scenario, although it is exaggerated, happens every day. Millions of people experience low vision or blindness and must cope with these challenges. I have some recommendations to suggest. When speaking with someone with low vision, don’t yell; just because they have trouble seeing does not mean they are deaf. Address the person directly; don’t ask the seeing person that is accompanying them to answer for them. As you approach a person with a vision impairment introduce yourself; likewise, announce when you are leaving. Move obstacles that may get in the way of a person navigating the restaurant.

Restaurants: Have large print menus and a magnifier on hand to offer to your customers. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires you to have some alternative format menus available for low vision or blind customers. An idea that works well is to use an inexpensive recorder to record the menu, giving those with a vision impairment another option. Instruct your wait staff to describe the placement of food on the plate and on the table using the face of a clock as a reference. Every business should have a ramp, if you also have stairs, think about putting contrasting colors on the edge of each stair and installing a railing. Good lighting is also very important. Think outside your seeing box! Be aware, don’t make assumptions, offer assistance and ask questions! Think about how you can contribute in assisting people to be as independent as possible no matter what their disability.

Call about our low vision support group, 235-7911.

Amanda Neal

Independent Living Center

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