If you have been visually impaired for any length of time, you know what it is like to feel helpless at times. Regardless of the situation, it can make you want to scream, cry and hit something all at the same time. And, though it isn't a huge deal in some people's eyes, this is never more apparent than when you are trying to figure out what's on the menu at a new restaurant.
Imagine this scenario: A family decides to go out to dinner one evening. The husband is visually impaired and they have two little kids, one of which doesn't read. They go to a new place because they have heard it is very good. They end up waiting for around 25 minutes be seated. Their kids are now restless and looking for ways to entertain themselves. The wife is feeling a bit overwhelmed by having to wrangle to children as well as make sure her husband stays with them. After they sit, she starts looking over the menu. One child starts saying, “Mommy, do they have pizza?” and “Mommy, does this say mushroom?” At the same time, the other child, who cannot read, starts coloring the placemat all while the mom is trying to determine what they will eat.
Now, imagine you are this husband and dad. How would you feel? What would you do? After all, there are only two people at the table who can read at all and one of them is struggling with the word mushroom. What if you want something that has more that 8 letters in it?
See what I mean?
Full transparency here, this was pretty common in my family for a while. Now, both my children can read and figure out what they want on their own. And, my oldest does a lot better with words more difficult than mushroom. But, it is still very upsetting internally that I have to depend on my wife to read that menu to me, especially at a new place.
And Your Choices Are…
So, what do you do? Well, there are a few options.
1. Ask for the specials and pick one of those.
Sometimes, restaurants will have daily specials. It is easy to ask the waiter or waitress to find out what those are and simply get the one that sounds the best. Or, the one that sounds the least worst. This can be an ok idea, as long as you like what they have.
2. Stick within a certain category of food
Perhaps you heard that this restaurant had really good chicken. You could ask your sighted supporter to read just the chicken items and stick with one of those. Perhaps a few more items, but still limiting.
3. Pull up the menu on your smartphone
Most restaurants have online menus that you could probably access via your smartphone and go through it that way. However, if it is a local place they may not have anything posted. Or, the restaurant may have a PDF form and your screen reader struggles to get through it.
4. Have your sighted supporter read the entire menu
From appetizers to desserts, you can have your sighted supporter go through every dish they offer. I'm sure it goes without saying that this option is not appealing to anyone.
A Little Prep Work
So, what's the solution? Here are a couple of ideas:
First, I like to pull up the menu on my computer at home before we go to this new, fancy restaurant. That way, I can take my time going through the entire menu and decide what I want. I usually pick out 3 different choices just in case they don't have my first pick. (That has happened a few times and we are stuck back in the first scenario.)
Secondly, if for some reason the restaurant doesn't have an online menu or it isn't very accessible, try this: See if you can get your hands on a paper menu from the restaurant. They may have a take out menu that will give you most if not all the options. Bring that home and use your magnifier, smartphone camera or scanner with screen reader to read it.
Finally, at the very least, have your sighted supporter go through the online or paper menu with you at home. While they are still having to read it, they aren't feeling the pressure of needing to make a decision in the next five minutes. Plus, they can do it after the kids go to bed and have a glass of wine to set the mood. And what mood is that you ask? Feeling relaxed.
Many times, we as visually impaired people simply “settle” for whatever we can get. I mean, I don't want to have my wife read the entire menu to me. She does so much already. So, I'll just have her give me some of the highlights as she goes through it herself. She knows what I like. I'm sure I'll get something good. But, I don't know what I am missing out on because I don't know the whole menu. Take a few moments to do some prep work to make sure you are getting exactly what you want. It's not a huge thing, but sit in enough restaurants settling for chicken strips and you will see what I mean!