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Accessibility Is On the Menu

How aMENU Will Revolutionize the Restaurant Experience
By eSSENTIAL Accessibility
September 4, 2014

When Geof Collis lost his eyesight 12 years ago, he was determined to maintain as much independence as possible.

Since his vision loss was gradual, the web developer was able to anticipate and plan for many of the obstacles he would face. Some were easy to predict. He knew that it would be difficult to get around his community in rural Ontario without easy access to public transit, for example. But others came as unpleasant surprises. He discovered, that dining out, which had been one of his favourite ways to spend time with his wife, came with unforeseen challenges.

“I loved to go to restaurants when I first met my wife, when I could see,” Collis explains. “After I lost my eyesight, if we went to a restaurant, my wife would have to read the menu all the time. It’s really not fair to her, so I would choose one of the first things she said and I would never get to see the rest of the menu.” Dining out, which had once been easy and enjoyable for the couple, now inevitably started with this uncomfortable dance.

Three years ago, Collis was speaking with a friend who is also blind and unable to read Braille or large print and the two began commiserating about the frustration of ordering from a menu. It was then that Collis decided to do something about it. “It dawned on me,” he says. “Why don’t I build a website [to fix the problem].”

Collis created aMENU (amenu.ca), a website that makes it possible for restaurant owners to create menus that can be read aloud by the screen reader on a mobile device (say, an iPad or iPhone) supplied by the restaurant or patron. Restaurants pay $150 a year to place their menu on aMENU and can update them simply (no webmaster skills necessary) and as often as needed, even daily. The site is accessible to many devices, comes in large print, high contrast and even has a one-click French-language option, courtesy of Google.

Taking advantage of the site can help businesses comply with accessibility laws across the country. In Ontario, where Collis lives, restaurants must accommodate people with vision disabilities according to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which states: “Except as otherwise provided, every obligated organization shall upon request provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for persons with disabilities.” Essentially, that means that restaurants without a technology like the one Collis offers, must have waiters and waitresses read the entire menu to customers with vision disabilities. “Not only does this take away independence,” says Collis. “But it is also inefficient, especially during peak hours.”

Using aMENU can help. Six months ago, the Eaton Chelsea Hotel began using the website for their restaurant and discovered the benefits for themselves. “The hotel has gone through and will continue to follow the AODA and including this aMENU is just another important part of the process,” says Tracy Ford, director of public relations. “We want to accommodate our guests’ needs so that their stay and dining experience is as enjoyable as possible.” Guests who have had the opportunity to use aMENU have given positive feedback. And in the hospitality industry, keeping customers happy is the name of the game.

While other establishments, like the 360 Restaurant at the CN Tower, P.J. O’Briens, Tim Hortons and Shopsy’s, have also made their menus accessible and mobile friendly with aMENU, it hasn’t been easy for Collis to get the word out and have restaurant owners recognize the importance of this technology. Luckily for others with vision disabilities, Collis will not give up any time soon. Not until aMENU becomes standard in restaurants across the country and everyone has equal access to the entire menu…right up to the last dessert.

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