Going to restaurants with low vision can be challenging for people who are new to the world of sight loss or dealing with changing eyesight, due to a lack of accessible menus, trouble with lighting or navigating spaces, or even insecurity about eating in front of others. While I don’t think much about my visual impairment when deciding where I’m going to eat with my friends, I typically use a few different assistive technology tools or tips and tricks that I have picked up on over the years to help make dining out with low vision easier for myself and for my fellow friends with vision loss. Here are my tips for going to restaurants with low vision, based on my own personal experience.
Options For Reading Menus With Low Vision
Look at the menu online
Before leaving for a restaurant or while I am in a car, I’ll typically look at the restaurant menu online so that I can get an idea of what is available. Typically, I prefer to read menus that have all of the information typed out on a page or in a document, as opposed to having a scanned copy of the physical menu that can be hard to read due to poor image resolution. A lot of restaurants have been embracing online menus, so this information is becoming easier to access than before.
Read the delivery menu on another app
If I can’t find the restaurant menu online, one of my favorite tricks is to pull up the delivery or online ordering menu on another app like Uber Eats so that I can read all of the menu options in large print or with a screen reader. The prices may vary slightly, though I have found this option to be extremely helpful if the online menu on the restaurant website is out of date.
Use a visual assistance app
If the menu is in an inaccessible format such as a scanned image or if it is too difficult for me to read, I’ll turn to a visual assistance app like Seeing AI or Be My Eyes so that I can have the menu read out loud with relevant information. For Seeing AI and AI-powered visual assistance apps, I can upload an image of the menu and the app will display the text in large print, though there may be minor spacing issues. For Be My Eyes and live visual assistance apps, I can ask a person to read the information I am interested in or read the entire menu.
Bring a magnifying glass or video magnifier
For people who prefer to use paper menus, I recommend bringing a small magnifying glass or video magnifier to enlarge the text of the menu. Some of these magnifiers even have a built-in light which can help with reading menus with low vision in low-light environments.
- How To Write Alt Text And Image Descriptions For Food
- Recognizing Images With Seeing AI
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- Magnifying Glasses For Low Vision
Adapting To Restaurant Lighting
Bring a lighted magnifier or use a phone flashlight
For people with eye conditions such as macular degeneration, using magnifying glasses with a built-in light or a phone flashlight can help tremendously with making text easier to read with low vision. People can also use their phone’s camera to magnify the text of a menu, instead of a traditional video magnifier.
Ask to be seated in a certain area
Some restaurants have different amounts of light in various sections of the restaurant, so if the lighting is a concern it is helpful to ask to be seated in an area with a lot of light. If a person is sensitive to flashing lights and the restaurant faces the street, I recommend requesting to sit away from windows, as emergency vehicle lights can be very disorienting.
Wear tinted glasses or sunglasses for light sensitivity
I wear tinted glasses everywhere I go, though some people prefer to wear them at restaurants because of bright lights. For example, one of my friends who is very light sensitive will wear their sunglasses to a popular restaurant near their college because the overhead lights cast a lot of glare on the menu and their plate.
Ask to turn off table lighting, if needed
When my family and I went to a restaurant the day I had eye surgery, I was much more photosensitive than normal and dealing with a lot of eye pain. I asked the server if they would be able to turn off the light above our table because it was so bright, and they were happy to do so, since there was a switch at the top. They also removed an additional table light from the surface of our table, and I was fine with utilizing the light from surrounding areas.
- All About The Eschenbach SmartLux Digital Video Magnifier
- Lighting And Low Vision
- How Tinted Glasses Help My Light Sensitivity
Restaurant Etiquette for Low Vision
How to request or reject an accessible menu
A growing number of restaurants are providing accessible menus for people with vision loss, most commonly in the form of Braille menus. Many chain restaurants in the US have Braille menus, and they can be requested when waiting to be seated at the restaurant, or once the group is at the table. Large print menus are also sometimes available, though these are rarer.
Some places may offer an accessible menu to customers with low vision that they can’t use- many people with vision loss can’t read Braille for example, or the large print may be too small. If someone offers me an accessible menu that I can’t read, I typically respond by saying “Thank you so much for having this as an option, but I can’t see this/I don’t know Braille.” Even if I can’t read it, it’s exciting to see this as an option for others!
Storing a blindness cane
I typically travel with a collapsible blindness cane, meaning that my cane can be folded into a number of segments and put away. When I am in a restaurant, I fold my blindness cane and put it behind me in a chair, or in my purse/backpack if it fits. For my friends who have blindness canes that don’t collapse, they typically put the cane against a wall or on the side of the table where it isn’t a tripping hazard.
Learn the table layout
When I go to a restaurant with someone who is blind, I make sure to tell them important information about the table layout that they might not otherwise know, and I recommend that human guides or servers provide the same information when possible. While my exact description depends on the restaurant, some examples of things I mention include:
- Location of silverware
- Where additional napkins are
- Location of drink/empty glasses
- Place to put plates/dishes when finished
I prefer to provide this information to someone instead of just handing them what they are looking for, because being independent is important and I personally feel weird having to ask someone where my fork is.
I’m not saying that people with vision loss are more likely to knock over a drink on the floor or spill something on the table, but vision loss can make it more difficult to clean things up. If a person notices a spill, it’s helpful to alert someone that an item was spilled and find a way to help clean up, i.e grabbing extra napkins. It’s also helpful to alert the server so they can grab a cloth or something similar.
- Ten Fun Facts About Braille for World Braille Day 2019
- Twelve Blindness Cane Storage Solutions
- Assistive Technology Products for the Dining Hall
Asking for help
Use the clock method for locating food on a plate
A popular way to help people orient themselves to where items on a plate are located or where plates are located is to use the clock face reference system. Think of the plate or the table as a clock face and use the following information as a guide:
- 3:00 is the right side of the plate/table
- 6:00 is the edge closest to the person
- 9:00 is the left side of the plate/table
- 12:00 is the edge furthest from the person
Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations
For people that get overwhelmed with the menu, it’s helpful to ask the server or staff for specials or recommendations, as they are often able to share popular items as well as their own personal favorites. Alternatively, one of my friends will ask everyone around the table what they are ordering and order the same thing as someone else at the table.
Ask for assistance with signing the bill
When I have to sign a bill, I typically ask for a human guide or server to point at the line where I need to sign, or set the pen on top of the line to sign. Another popular trick that people use is having the receipt folded over so that the signature line is visible at the top of the page.
Use a human guide when moving around the restaurant, when possible
When I was at a popular chain restaurant about a month ago, someone gave me misleading directions to the restroom and I ended up in the middle of a staff-only area with no idea how I got there- and no idea where the bathroom was either. While incidents like this don’t happen very often, it’s helpful to have someone act as a guide when walking around the restaurant or when trying to find places like the bathroom, as they can help with navigating obstacles more easily.
- Baking Banana Bread With Assistive Technology
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Identify Money?
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Use Human Guides?
Other Resources For Going To Restaurants With Low Vision
- Dine Confidently: Tips For Eating With A Visual Impairment
- Blindness Canes and Dining Halls: Navigating College Campuses