Commentary: Making Print Documents and Business Truly Accessible

Many organizations and advocates for people who are blind or visually impaired are constantly working to make restaurants more accessible and inclusive. Last week, an article in the Boston Globe about making Braille menus available in restaurants caught my attention. It also made me think about why Braille and other accessible formats are needed in restaurants and other public facilities.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone to restaurants with Braille menus. As the article points out, many times restaurant owners don’t fully understand the need for Braille menus, or the staff might be unaware they have them. On the rare instances I get my hands – literally – on a Braille menu, I can read through all the choices without having to rely on others. I find this convenient, because instead of spending those first few minutes reading the menu to me, my sighted companion can focus on deciding what he or she will have. This makes me feel included and just like everyone else in the restaurant.

It is equally important to have other accessibility methods in place for people who don’t know, or cannot read Braille. The National Federation of the Blind estimates that only 10 percent of people who are blind in the United States read Braille, and this is due to a variety of factors. This shows that other methods – like accessible restaurant websites or providing menus in audio format – are as important as Braille menus. One such example is Tappy Menu, a mobile app we have previously covered on this blog. This app not only allows people with visual impairments to browse menus independently, but it also lets restaurants update the information.

Accessibility goes far beyond having menus everyone can read. Restaurant and other personnel working in the customer service industry can greatly benefit from disability awareness training. Many times when I go to restaurants, the waiter will ask my companion what I will have instead of asking me directly. A friend who uses a wheelchair once had a waitress bring along an employee who happened to know sign language to her table because the waitress assumed my friend was deaf! I can’t say I am angry at these employees. I know it is quite likely they have never interacted with customers with disabilities, and therefore don’t know what to do. Disability awareness training for managers and the wait staff can help alleviate these problems.

Having materials in accessible format is also important in other settings. Most of the time when I go to doctors’ appointments, open a new bank account or do other business involving paperwork, the forms are not accessible. I need to have someone – either a friend, family member or even staff –read the information out loud. This means those nearby can hear my personal information, and not to mention the time consuming process of telling whomever is helping me fill out the forms what to write. By providing forms and information in Braille, large print, audio or electronic format, we can choose the best option for our needs.

The ADA requires that restaurant menus and other publications be accessible to people with disabilities. I applaud the numerous measures taken by restaurants to make menus available in Braille, and hope that more will follow in their footsteps. Not all people who are blind or visually impaired read Braille, and that is why it is important to provide menus and other documents in alternative media. By doing this, businesses will build environments that are truly accessible and inclusive for everyone.

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