Blind World Magazine

Groups push to bring Braille menus to eateries across the nation.

The Asahi Shimbun, Japan.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006.

KITA-KYUSHU--As anyone who can't read a Japanese menu knows, eating out can be an exercise in frustration if you can't figure out what the restaurant offers.

Sometimes, it's just easier to stick to the simple rule of ordering the obvious--ramen at a noodle shop, beverages at a coffee shop. Or just point to the dish in the display case.

But for people with visual impairments, the display case is of no help.

So they often stick to items that are probably on the menu and probably within their budget.

Even when they have a helper with them, if the person suggests, "They have katsu-don, too,'' or "How about tea?" people with visual impairments often go along with the suggestion, maybe opting for a dish they don't really care for.

That's what Toshimitsu Kinoshita, president of the Kita-Kyushu welfare association for people who are visually impaired, learned through talking to group members.

He found that many members were tormented by such thoughts as: "It would be embarrassing if I ordered something that was not on the menu,'' or "I don't want to cause extra trouble by having someone from the restaurant read off the menu."

He decided to lead a project to get Braille menus in more restaurants. The movement in Kita-Kyushu began last June. Already, about 150 restaurants in the city now offer Braille menus.

"Eventually we want (people with visual impairments) to be able to go to an izakaya and order whatever catches their fancy," Kinoshita said. He said he could well imagine the times members had wished, "If only I could read what's on the menu, I would order what I really wanted."

Kinoshita notes that while there are laws that promote a barrier-free society to help give people with disabilities greater access, the legislation tends to focus on roads and other obstacles faced by those who are sight-impaired.

When it comes to making everyday life just that little bit easier, it all too often depends on the efforts of private companies and the public at large.

The Kita-Kyushu welfare association for the visually impaired has been going to restaurants to explain the daily obstacles that confront people with vision problems.

Association members and volunteers took on the task of translating menus. Costs were kept to a minimum.

The association charges 230 yen for a page that could list up to 17 items.

To assist senior citizens who may have difficulty reading the fine print, the reverse side of the page carries the menu in large print.

To promote the Braille menus, association members took to the streets. Menus in hand, they visited every eatery they could find.

Their efforts have borne substantial fruit. About 150 establishments, including those located around JR Kokura and Tobata stations, now offer Braille menus.

One of the difficulties in spreading the word is that members themselves are sight-impaired.

Finding restaurants in areas they are not familiar with was a major task in itself. Trying to convince as many eateries as possible was time consuming.

According to Kinoshita, there are about 4,000 visually impaired people living in Kita-Kyushu who would benefit greatly from Braille menus or special large print menus.

Some carry certificates that state they have a physical disability. Others are elderly people who are experiencing an abrupt deterioration of sight.

But it is not just the organization in Kita-Kyushu that is leading the charge. A civic organization in Kyoto called Kyoto Mojin Fukushi Kenkyukai has been active since 1981 under the slogan, "Braille menus at every restaurant."

The group is made up of Braille-translation volunteers and the sight-impaired.

Just like the group in Kita-Kyushu, volunteers produce Braille menus. The cost is 100 yen per sheet.

About 200 restaurants in department stores and underground malls in Kyoto now offer the Braille menus.

Tokyo-based Skylark Co., which operates a family restaurant chain nationwide, adopted Braille menus in 1984 for all its outlets.

Other family restaurant and karaoke chains followed suit.

"But the Braille menus don't get used that much," said one official of such a chain.

Sukoyaka Shokuseikatsu Kyokai, a Tokyo-based organization that promotes healthy eating habits among sight-impaired people, has its own approach to pushing its cause.

"We need to go out more and eat out more often. Unless we demonstrate our need for Braille menus, nothing will change. We have to change the way restaurants think," said Tsuneo Tsutsumi, who heads the organization and is sight-impaired.

There is also the problem of coordinating with other groups.

A member of an Osaka organization that does similar work said: "We don't have an inkling as to what is going on in other regions."

End of article.

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