One of the most frequently asked questions from people living with low vision is: How do you read the restaurant menu? There are many good options for accomplishing this task depending on the degree of visual impairment.
This is all about making adjustments, and accepting that picking up a menu and reading it the way you once did, may not be something you can reenact. Keep in mind, the goal is to select food you will enjoy, not to read every dish on the menu.
Here are some of the ways we can successfully overcome the challenges of menu reading and return to savoring the culinary and social experience.
- Flashlights & Magnifiers – It is not at all unusual to see people in dimly lit restaurants pull out their mobile phone flashlight and point it at the menu. The same goes for magnifiers, sometimes on the phone, sometimes on their own with the light built in. So no need to feel different — everybody’s doing it.
- Online Menu – Making a menu selection in advance will allow you to relax. Google search “menu” + the restaurant name to review choices. (With iPhone use Speak Screen or VoiceOver to read the menu aloud, on larger screens increase the text size.)
- Ask – It is perfectly fine to ask a companion to read some sections from the menu to you, but try to ask for specific categories like, “What are the salads or soups?” Also, ask if there is a large print menu.
- Specials – Asking the wait staff to read you the menu is not realistic, but do ask for the specials of the day or for their recommendations in specific categories.
- Seeing AI – The popular iPhone app from Microsoft has 2 channels that can be useful for menu reading. The Short Text channel can be pointed at sections of the menu and will instantly read it back to you. The Document channel will take a guided picture of the entire page and will read it back. (Click here for more on Seeing AI.)
In essence, just put this struggle down and figure out the easiest method of selecting your menu items and enjoying the food, the company, the conversation, and the atmosphere. it’s even okay to say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
About the Author
Dorrie Rush is a Visual Accessibility Expert and progressive proponent for Universal Access and Inclusive Design. She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.