Blind Man With a Backpack: The newest restaurant reviewer

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here as I’ve been fortunate that the Vision Foundation have published my last couple of articles on audio description and abuse – You can find the links to these and more including an introduction to my latest fundraiser for Berkshire Vision in my External Links page.

Accessibility Fails

So now I’m looking forward to getting back to things here. It’s oh so easy to call out the many accessibility fails to the point that the times when it is done right often get forgotten about.

I’ve had a few bad experiences in recent months (find out more in Shooing Dragons) and they take up so much brain space and mental energy that it is a welcome relief to focus on the positive for a change. No matter our disability there seems to be an automatic reaction that we are somehow inferior or less worthy and this comes across in people’s attitudes, in the way we are spoken to or about (even when we are within earshot) and in the way we are treated when taking part in everyday activities. None more so than when we fancy going out with our families and friends for dinner.

There is an assumption that, just because we’re disabled, we are limited in what we can achieve or what we can get involved in. This is simply not true.

I am severely sight impaired (technically blind) and yet I’m able to lead a pretty “normal” life; I go swimming, I go to gigs, I work full-time and even manage to get the round in down the pub. The only thing limiting my ability to do these things is the access to support or adaptions. For example, I am able to work because I have specialist software on my laptop that can read what’s on the screen to me and I can traverse the 4 hour round trip with multiple train transfers because of the support in place to do so. The same is true when I go swimming – the pool’s staff are always on hand to guide me out to the poolside and to ensure there is nobody swimming along the same side as me that I may bump into. Even going to gigs is possible because my guide can attend for free to help me around the venue – even if you need a PHD in Computer Science to navigate all the venue-specific booking processes (but that’s something for another day).

My biggest bug-bear is dining out. Quite rightly, restaurants are very aware of allergies – some of which could be life-threatening – and most restaurants will have ways of identifying gluten, dairy, nuts and so forth. If we are so aware of allergies, why isn’t the same care and attention taken for disabled people?

Every day 250 people find out they have some form of sight loss and there are currently 2 million people in the UK are losing their sight in some way, shape or form. Of these 2 million, around 350,000 are registered blind and just 8% of these are totally blind. In a country with a population of 68 million, almost 3% have sight-loss compared to 1% with celiac disease and 10% with lactose intolerance. Recent studies have shown that approximately 3.5 million people in the UK are now “gluten free” and the UK restaurant industry has rightly responded to this change by offering an ever increasing gluten free range. Whether this is by choice or due to intolerances, there are no protections under UK law for dietary needs. Conversely, somebody registered as visually impaired or blind is protected by both the Equalities Act and the Disability Discrimination Act meaning venues must male reasonable adjustments to accommodate these patrons including providing menus in accessible formats – and yet many restaurants fail to meet this obligation. So often when I ask for an accessible menu I am told a straight “no” and have to resort to scanning the menu with my phone’s magnifier. Alternatively, I can use a text-to-speech app such as Seeing AI, but this is reliant on me having a mobile signal strong enough to translate the image and the background noise volume being quiet enough that I can hear the output. Many restaurants will advise that their menu is fully accessible online but, how many of us know exactly what we want to eat hours or days in advance? Likewise, these “fully accessible” menus tend to mean a PDF document which are quite often inaccessible to the screen reading technology I mentioned earlier.

Even if we book in advance and request an accessible menu very often the request is ignored and this puts me in an impossible situation. I can either accept the situation for what it is and carry on as if it’s not a big deal or I can make a fuss, complain to a poor member of the wait staff who has no influence over how their menu is printed. If I do nothing then nobody realises there is a problem and nothing will change but if I complain then I run the risk of spoiling the meal for everyone. What I would really like to do is just stand up and walk out, refusing to dine there as long as they refuse to accommodate visually impaired customers but this isn’t really an option, especially if I’m in a large group of people.

So instead I’m going to do what any good blogger would do – I will dedicate an area of my site to my own restaurant reviews but, instead of reviewing the food (I’m no Jay Rayner) I will be reviewing their menus!

The Pig Near Bath

A large-print breakfast menu printed on A4 paper Breakfasts included both vegetarian and standard full breakfasts, smoked kippers and Eggs Benedict.

Venue: The Pig Near Bath

Menu accessibility: Large-print paper, online PDF

Staff supportiveness: Extremely friendly, did not need prompting to provide menu on arrival.

Requested in advance: Yes

Brief description: Large-print menus requested at time of booking and were provided on arrival without needing to prompt restaurant staff at both dinner and breakfast. The online menu is in PDF format which can be difficult to view on some devices.

Overall rating: 4 stars

Two A3 sheets of off-white paper with a large-print menu. The top page has starters and light bites including Piggy Bites, vegetable dishes from the garden, greenhouse and polytunnel and other starters including venison carpaccio and cured black bream. The bottom sheet has mains including rump steak, lamb and monkfish.

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