Going to restaurants with low vision is not impossible, but it’s rare to find menus that are accessible. My friend and I went out to dinner, and my friend requested a large print menu, and our server looked at us like we were crazy, and suggested I just hold the menu closer to my face. We politely thanked the server for bringing us menus, and then started making the menu accessible ourselves. Restaurants are not required to provide menus in accessible formats here in the US, though many provide a Braille menu. I don’t read Braille though, and I am yet to be handed a restaurant menu in large print. Here are my tips and tricks for going to restaurants with low vision.
Read the menu online
Websites tend to be very good about accessibility and have PDF files or simple webpages for the menu. If I know where I am going ahead of time, I will browse the menu online and pick a few dishes I might want. For websites with poor contrast, I copy and paste the menu into a notepad or word processing program and increase the font.
Bring assistive technology
I often bring my SmartLux or use a magnification app on my phone to read menus on the go. The only pitfall is that lighting conditions can be less than ideal, or the fonts may be difficult to read, so this is not always reliable.
Have someone read you the menu
This is most discreet at places where the menu is printed on boards high off the ground. Have a staff member or friend read items off the menu. Alternatively, you can take a picture of the boards and then zoom in on the text.
Use Microsoft Office Lens
By holding my iPad screen over a menu, Microsoft Office Lens can scan in text and make it into an accessible picture or PDF file. Alternatively, users can also use Microsoft Seeing AI and have the menu text read to them. Read my post on Microsoft Office Lens here, and stay tuned for my post on Seeing AI.
Order the same thing as your friend
I tend to order the same thing as my friend if I find reading the menu too tedious or too frustrating. No one has ever found this weird, and we also haven’t worried about confusing plates or things like that. Luckily, a lot of my friends are used to me doing this. Sometimes they will even just scan the menu for me and order me something they think I will like.
Always get the same thing
While he doesn’t have low vision, my brother will often order the same thing every time he goes to a restaurant. Be it a burger, macaroni and cheese, or pizza, he says he never has to worry about reading a menu or being disappointed by trying a new thing. If you develop a rotation of a few dishes at a particular restaurant, you can order easily and not have to worry about menu drama.
Think about silverware
One of my friends has said that one of the most amusing things to watch is me attempting to cut food and cutting either very large pieces or weirdly small ones. When possible, I try to order foods that aren’t difficult to eat or that can’t easily spill. At a restaurant that my friend and I go to often, the server will make a note to cut food ahead of time so that way I am not so frustrated.
Advocate for accessible menus
It’s easy to get frustrated with the lack of accessible menus, but it’s important not to take it out on the server. Make sure to treat them with kindness and tip well, as it is not their fault that the restaurant they work for does not have accessible menus. They also likely don’t know what accessible menus are, so being upset with them is not helpful. Instead, contact the restaurant owner or headquarters directly!
With the aging population increasing and low vision becoming more common, the demand will only continue to grow for accessible menus. I have emailed corporate headquarters of restaurants requesting that they create large print menus so that more people may be able to order easily and with dignity. I hope that someday I may be able to go to a restaurant and be handed a large print menu, but until then, these adaptions help tremendously.