Blind foodie seeks Braille menus in Delhi restaurants

March 19, 2014

Baldev Gulati loves to eat out. Friends and family often join him, but sometimes he likes to go on a date with himself. There’s one problem — Gulati is blind.

The 43-year-old businessman, sightless since birth, was tired of asking waiters and fellow diners to read restaurant menus out loud. Gulati’s food choices were restricted and he couldn’t experiment with cuisines. That’s when the thought struck him — why not get restaurants in Delhi to introduce menus in Braille?

“[Eating out] was always a pain to me. When I am paying equally to the restaurants, why restaurants are not taking care of my needs?” said Gulati, the owner of a department store in west Delhi that employs the visually impaired.

“The worst part is when you’re throwing a party or when you are going to eat on your own, you can’t ask the waiter how much is what for. A particular dish or a bottle of beer is for how much? That looks very awkward,” he said.

India is home to around 12 million blind people, according to official estimates. Advances in technology have made access to education easier but advocates for the blind say these changes help only a minority living in urban India.

Some public services such as the Delhi Metro are disabled-friendly, but people working with the blind say more public and private institutions need to be inclusive. A federal law that promises equal opportunities to the disabled awaits parliamentary approval.

At least two restaurants in south India, one each in Chennai and Bengaluru, launched menus in Braille. Chungwa, a Chinese restaurant in a posh south Delhi neighbourhood, is probably the only eatery in India’s capital city to do so.

“I think it should be part of a business plan … we should be able to do things for everyone. That’s when we should be given our licences,” said Gaurav Chhatwal, the owner of Chungwa.

Chhatwal doesn’t really remember blind diners visiting Chungwa over the past decade, but at least six customers asked for Braille menus after the restaurant launched them in December.

A typical food-and-beverage Braille menu costs up to 500 rupees (about $8) to print, said Pallavi Rao Narvekar of Radio Mirchi’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) division. That’s less than the cost of say, a large pizza at a New Delhi outlet.

Inspired by Gulati’s concept, the radio station teamed up with the National Association for the Blind (NAB) to print the menus at Chungwa.

A more comprehensive menu is in the works — one that will include Braille, large-font text, and audio recordings — and talks are on with various food chains to consider the needs of the blind.

“This increases awareness in the society that blind people are also educated, they can also pay, they are also customers,” said Prashant Verma, who is associated with the NAB and develops technology for the blind.

For Gulati, it’s a battle that’s just begun. Thirty of his favourite restaurants are on his wishlist and he hopes to talk them into introducing Braille menus in six months.

“The easiest strategy to do with them, which I believe is going to work, is telling them that if they can’t afford [it], I’ll pay for the cost of the menu in Braille,” said Gulati.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Sankalp on Twitter @sankalp_sp, Tony @TonyTharakan | Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)

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