Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai Menu Card
Some restaurants have introduced menu cards in Braille or printed in large type faces to help the visually impaired, finds V. Kumara Swamy
Om is a restaurant with a difference. It knows that there are people, and there are people. So the servers in the Bangalore eatery don't place any old menu card before their customers when they sit down for a meal. For people who can't see well, there are menus with large fonts. For the sightless, the bills of fare are in Braille.
"It was a pretty unique experience, " recalls Moses Chowdary, who is visually impaired. "I didn't have to go there with friends or take the help of waiters for the menu. And best of all was the feeling that somebody thought of us, " says the 29-year-old teacher at EnAble India, a Bangalore-based organisation working towards empowering people with disabilities.
Disabled rights groups had hoped that Parliament would this week pass the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, which was tabled in Rajya Sabha on February 9. But Parliament was adjourned — and now the bill will be taken up only after the polls.
But while the proposed law hangs in limbo, initiatives are being taken by groups and individuals to make life a little easier for the visually impaired.
Om owner Bhavna Jain, for instance, thought of introducing Braille menus when a woman with vision problems came to her restaurant and needed help with the menu. Jain, 44, got in touch with EnAble India, which was located in her neighbourhood. And Chowdary's students helped her with the Braille work. "It's great when somebody comes here for the first time just to feel the excitement of being in a restaurant that offers a menu in Braille, " she says.
Gaurav Chhatwal, 42, a Delhi-based restaurateur, also wanted to introduce Braille menus but didn't know where to go. Then, recently, a local music station approached him with the offer of making Braille menu cards for his restaurant, Chungwa, as part of the music company's Corporate Social Responsibility programme. "This offer came at the right time, " Chhatwal says. "I am glad so many visually challenged people visit my restaurant." A group of 10 people with vision problems landed up at Chungwa for a meal before any other customers on Wednesday, he adds excitedly.
- thoughtful touch: Om restaurant in Bangalore and (below) their Braille menu card
Other restaurateurs too have shown an interest in introducing Braille menus. "The response hasn't been overwhelming, and that was a bit disappointing. But people are enquiring about the costs and other factors, " Jain adds.
Of course, of the thousands of restaurants in the country, only a handful has menus in Braille. These include restaurants in five star hotels such as the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, The Westin Pune and a few hotels in Goa. Copper Chimney, a multi-cuisine restaurant in Mumbai, also offers the menu in Braille.
"It's a drop in the ocean, " says Shivani Gupta, founder of AccessAbility, a Delhi-based architectural access and design consultancy.
Mahendra More, head of the Braille press of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), Mumbai, says awareness is low in India about issues relating to disability. "Many are either unaware or they simply don't care for the blind. I can't find any other reason a decent restaurant shouldn't have a menu card in Braille, " he adds.
According to the 2011 census, India has 5.3 million visually impaired people, though activists believe there are 15 million people with vision problems, including those affected by cataract and other ailments. Around 44 per cent of the visually impaired is literate in Braille.
Invented in 1821 by the French educator, Louis Braille, each character — a letter, figure or punctuation mark — is translated into raised dots, which are positioned in two parallel columns of three. The blind can read by passing their fingers over each character.
"The disabled in general and visually impaired in particular are mostly ignored in every sphere of social life. But if more and more restaurants take it upon themselves to have menus in Braille and fonts in bigger points, people would really feel they are part of a very important social activity, " says Anuradha Mohit, director, National Institute for Visually Handicapped, Dehradun.
The activists point out that it doesn't cost much to print in Braille or have bigger font sizes. "It costs around Rs 100 more as the size of these cards is a bit bigger and of course they have to be printed in Braille presses. But such presses are there in every major city, " says Prashant Verma of NAB, Delhi. It was the Delhi chapter of the NAB that helped Chungwa with the Braille menu cards.
Apart from restaurants, some organisations too are also looking at Braille to help the blind.
Delhi Metro will come out with guide books in Braille, which will be brought out together with Samarthyam, a Delhi-based organisation that provides research and technical assistance to make spaces accessible to the disabled. The booklets will mark out the entrance and exit points of the 140-odd metro stations that can be accessed by the disabled.
In the meanwhile, some visually impaired people have adopted their own ways to deal with the problem. For instance, Charudatta Jadhav, 43, an international level Braille chess player and founder of the Mumbai-based Indian Institute of Assistive Technology (which introduces technology to help the blind), says that he uses a hand-held device that can read out texts from papers, books and, of course, menus.
"Not everybody can afford it, but it's one way of dealing with the situation in India. In Western countries restaurants have trained staff to take care of the disabled, and they also have Braille card facilities. Our people are yet to understand the importance of such initiatives, " Jadhav adds.
Among the few steps taken in India is a website that AccessAbility launched, listing public spaces that can be accessed by the disabled.
"We surveyed around 2, 000 places in Delhi including markets, malls, restaurants and cinemas. And we were shocked to find that only a handful of places were in the category of 'fully accessible'. Almost 95 per cent of the places we surveyed were simply inaccessible for everybody, including the visually impaired, " Gupta says.
In the absence of widespread awareness, experts believe the efforts of a few can successfully highlight the problem of the visually impaired. "We can only salute the efforts of such people, " says Neelu Suneja, member, Blind Relief Association. "We are desperately in need of people who can show the path to others, " she adds.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of The Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel
How to Visit Taj Mahal India.
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