Blind dining: what it’s like when you can’t see the menu

Blind dining: what it’s like when you can’t see the menu
By guest blogger Matthew Wadsworth
I’ve been blind my whole life, so I’m used to finding alternate solutions to everyday problems. My girlfriend calls me the king of the workaround. 

Nowadays she and I cook our meals together, but I do cook on my own when I need to. You can hear when it’s time to turn the heat down on the veg, and you can smell when the mince has cooked through. Pouring a glass of wine? Just stick one finger halfway down the glass, and when the liquid just touches your fingertip, stop pouring and hand the glass to your bemused dinner guests.
There were some early mishaps when I was learning to cook, like the first time I made spaghetti. I poured a tin of tomatoes into a pan for the sauce, but they evidently didn’t all quite make it into the pot. As I sat the table munching my curiously dry spaghetti, my horrified flat-mate came into the kitchen, which, he said, looked like a murder scene.

Cooking has got a lot easier since then, but grocery shopping can still be a bit of a lottery. I just go to the customer service desk and hope that whoever comes to help me is familiar with the language and the food (“No, no, I want the mince pies, not the mince…”)
The only really awkward food moments, though, tend to happen in restaurants. Whether you’re dining with colleagues, family, or friends, it’s nice to come across as equal and autonomous, which can be a bit tricky when you can’t read the menu.
Usually some patient person reads the menu out to me and I make a mental shortlist of the options, hoping that I can remember them long enough to make my choice – and that my dinner companion has enough time to make their own choice before the waiter comes back. Other times I just take a guess at what might be on the menu and order that (if we’re in a pub, they probably have burgers).
One time I went to the pub with four guys from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and we were all on equal footing: five blind guys sitting at a table. There were no waiting staff, so one of us went up to the bar and got the bartender to read out the menu, memorised the options as best he could, and came back to tell us. We had a few surprises when the food came. I thought I’d ordered a pizza with pepperoni, but it turned out to be with peperoncini (good thing I like spicy hot peppers).
The iPhone has been a huge help to me, with food and with all areas of life. Apple have put a full range of accessibility options into their standard phones and tablets, including a screen reader that will read aloud to you at any speed or volume, as well as a dictation setting for text messages and emails.

And then there are the apps! Some of them just happen to work well with my screen reader, and others were designed specifically with accessibility in mind. I’ve got a scanning app that reads labels to me, an identification app that will name whatever I take a picture of, and a collection of navigation apps that help me find the nearest restaurant or shop wherever I am. I’ve even designed my own web app called Good Food Talks for – you guessed it – reading out restaurant menus. No matter what the problem is, there’s always a good workaround somewhere.

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