Junk Food Accessibility

What accommodations must restaurants make for people with vision impairments in the wired age in which we live?  According to a Catskill woman quoted in an article titled, “Legally blind woman sues fast-food restaurants, demanding Braille or large-print menus” from today’s, New York based, Daily Freeman.

Catskill resident Alice Camarillo has filed suit in the Federal District Court in Albany against, “several fast-food chains that do business in the Hudson Valley, including McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Subway.”  According to the article, the restaurants have filed for dismissal on the grounds that, “the restaurants have no obligation to accommodate the visually impaired beyond having someone read the menu to them.”

Camarillo’s attorney in a statement quoted in the article describes the difficulties that she has when standing at a counter, listening to a fast-food clerk try to read the menu.  My own thoughts turn to the fact that many of these restaurants have pictures on the cash tray because the clerks cannot read so I wonder how accurate they can describe the entire collection of fat and salt filled delicacies.  Ms Camarillo complains that listening to the clerk read the menu holds up the line, annoying people behind her, and that on some occasions she has, “been told to wait while other customers in line are served before her.”

Camarillo’s lawyer continues by referring to the section of the ADA that requires, “auxiliary aids, which mandates that people with special needs be provided the assistance necessary to have access to public services.”

Because the plaintiff is low vision, her attorney says that she would prefer large print menus to Braille because her Braille reading skills are poor.  The article quotes the attorney as saying that each restaurant could produce a large print menu for around “$10” by having employee type one up in a word processor using a large font.  Of course, Braille menus would cost more and, for us with profound vision impairments, large print will serve no value.

I’ll watch this case and report on the outcome when I hear about it.  I fear that this plaintiff may settle the case by accepting large print only and another suit will need to be filed for the people who cannot use that type of accommodation.

Braille literacy helps a great deal in the lives of many blind people.  Various studies by the Braille Institute and others demonstrate a tremendous delta between the success of blinks who read Braille and those who do not.  Unfortunately, less than 15% of blind people in the US today have enough of a grasp of Braille to read it with any sense of efficiency.  I, for one, a person who still tries to learn and practice his Braille skills, would take an eternity to read the huge Braille menu at any Bennigan’s so ask the people with whom I’m dining or, if alone, the waitress to read menus to me.  I almost never set foot in a McDonald’s and, then, usually just to use the men’s room so I don’t feel the shame of holding up the line and I would probably go ballistic if some high school drop out asked me to wait for the line to pass.

So, what can solve the problem for blind Americans?  Also, what about people with cognitive and learning disabilities who may not have the capability of reading either?

I can think of a few “high tech” solutions that wouldn’t cost restaurants too much and would work for people with and without disabilities.

Some restaurants, Starbuck’s entire chain for instance, have wireless, 802.11, routers that their customers use to enjoy the Internet while drinking their $4 cup of coffee.  Restaurants like this could put their menu atop the T-Mobile (in Starbuck’s case) login screen so customers don’t have to pay to read it and anyone with a WiFi enabled device would have their favorite user agent in hand with which they can access the information.  

A local web page could push the daily specials and the restaurant owner can make additional income from its patrons who choose to click through to the rest of the Internet and logon to their T-Mobile account.  One good 802.11 G router with a PC and high speed connection (paid for by T-Mobile in their case) costs very little, would give access to any blind person with a PAC Mate with WiFi card installed, Humanware MPower or MSP or Pocket HAL on a Windows Mobile device.  The cost to the
restaurant will probably be repaid by the T-Mobile royalties pretty quickly and will serve a lot of their customers nicely.

Another option, although less practical at this time, would put the menu on an RFID tag that could be read using an expansion card for a PAC Mate, iPAQ or laptop.  This would cost the restaurant very little ($2 if mounted nicely on a plastic sheet) but, unlike WiFi devices, RFID hasn’t gained much popularity yet.  I don’t know if anyone has tested RFID reading software with a PAC Mate or mainstream PDA with a screen installed so its accessibility also remains somewhat in question.  As I know of a number of projects around the country to make RFID readers talk with JAWS, PAC Mates and in self-voicing blind-guy-ghetto solutions, such accessibility should be coming soon.

There are numerous other technologies which could perform this task but none as practical as WiFi or RFID.

What about people who don’t carry high tech gadgets with them when they go out for a Royalle with cheese?

Well, roughly 15% of American blind people could do with a Braille menu but these can get costly as each fast-food franchise has somewhat different prices and some will or will not carry specials like that yummy McRib.  So, every time a franchise changes a price or the corporation runs a national special, the district manager (I would assume) would have to emboss another set of plastic Braille menus for each separate restaurant.  If you’ve priced embossers lately, you will quickly understand why a fast-food chain would not want to buy hundreds of them for distribution around the country.  If they do, though, I’m sure my friends up at ViewPlus could accommodate them.

Large print would work for a particular group but do nothing for the totally blind folks or those with cognitive or other textual impairments.  So, once again, I conclude a Blind Confidential entry with an unsolved mystery.  Of course, if any of the fast food restaurants mentioned above do install one of my suggested solutions, I probably won’t notice as I don’t especially care for the Royalle du fromage and I don’t know, I didn’t go into Burger King.


Thanks again to Leon and the “Blind News” email service hosted on the “Blind Programming” server.  The article referenced in this piece came to me from Blind News as do many other very interesting items.

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

2 thoughts on “Junk Food Accessibility”

  1. most of the restaurants I read about on the internet have the menu on their website. So, just copy the webpage onto whatever mobile device you use and check out the menu while you are travelling to the place. Unfortunately, none of the good restaurants in India have a website let alone putting up the menu in there. Also, I thinkk that blindness organizations in their respective areas should take care of these type of access issues. Its not difficult for them to collect the menus and emboss them for who ever requires them.

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