My name is Corrina Veesart and I will explore what it is like to eat out from the perspective of a person who is deafblind. Dining out is one of the common activities we engage in. Whether during the summer days when many people may go on vacation or on busy days, there are so many dining options, particularly in large or ethnically diverse cities, from which people have to choose where and what to eat on any given day.
As a person who is deafblind, accessing restaurants can be a challenge. One of those challenges is knowing what menu choices are available. Of course, that’s the main reason for going to a restaurant. It’s rare a Braille menu is available. I’ve discovered the chain restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, provides Braille menus! It was amazing when I was able to independently access all the choices! I could review the selections and choose what I wanted to eat on my own! Never having experienced that before, it was a little overwhelming to see all the different choices right there in front of me! It required some time to sort through to find what specifically I wanted. I most always access restaurants with support of friends, family, and support service providers (SSPs). Someone will tell me what’s available on the menu. Often times, I’m with someone who I’m familiar with, so that person already has a good idea of my food preferences. They will narrow down the selection to the most likely choices. If none of those choices appeals to me, or I need more information, I’ll ask for more description about what the dish includes. If I am with a person who doesn’t know me very well, I have to first explain my tastes and preferences, and then hope we get it right. It’s too time-consuming to have someone read the whole menu. It holds up everyone else ordering. I am not experienced trying to navigate menus online via Braille equipment. It cannot be presumed that every deafblind person has the equipment and knows how to access menus online, or that the website is in itself, accessible. It would be helpful if every restaurant provided a Braille menu on site. Then blind and deafblind folks could walk in to easy access.
Transportation to and from the restaurant and navigating the environment once inside the restaurant is another significant area when individual support might be needed for communication, mobility, and visual information. The restaurant environment presents the issue of being seated at a table, maybe accessing a buffet line and carrying plates while using a cane and finding a table, finding bathrooms, etc.
Lighting, either if it’s too dark or has too much glare, can be another important factor depending on the individual. DeafBlind people who use tactile sign language might have less issue with lighting, while for other modes of deafblind communication, lighting conditions are much more critical. Restaurants that are able to accommodate lighting according to customers’ needs make a big difference. All of these examples point to the importance of being able to communicate effectively with employees, navigate the space for appropriate seating, and overall use of the environment, to achieve access, be comfortable, and enjoy the restaurant experience!
While having Braille menus on site and accessible and reliable transportation is crucial to an accessible restaurant experience, other gaps in accessibility may best be narrowed or eliminated through the provision of a support service provider (SSP). An SSP is a trained individual who provides communication and environmental access to a person who is deafblind, usually in an informal setting like a restaurant. Approximately 30 cities and states already provide SSP service throughout the country, but the availability varies widely from place to place as there is no federal mandate similar to sign language interpreters already required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For a detailed description of an SSP, see the 2015 letter to the US Department of Justice written by DeafBlind Citizens in Action.
– Corrina Veesart