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Braille Menus in the Cafes of Jerusalem – Sagi Yudovitz May 5, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in Action, Society.
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“We have a menu in Braille!” the waitress greets me joyfully, and rushes to lay it down in front of me. This is fast becoming a common event in the cafes and restaurants of Jerusalem, thanks to the activities of Bema’aglei Tzedek.

The organization publishes menus in Braille as part of the ‘Social Seal’ project. “Lately,” the organisation’s Ohad Zakbach explains, “We have begun to distribute large-print as well as Braille menus, to make things easier for partially-sighted people who are not completely blind.”  Zakbach, speaking on the radio programme ‘Lo Ro’im MiMeter’, explained why the organization has chosen to focus on providing menus for visually impaired people.  In his view, the chance to receive a menu in a form that suits his or her needs, enables a blind or partially-sighted person to experience a greater degree of independence in places of leisure.  Zackbach added that the Braille menus encourage the more frequent and more natural presence of visually impaired people in public leisure spaces, making the wider population more accustomed to the routine presence of people with disabilities in these sites.

The experiment demonstrates that the presence of people with disabilities in general, and in this case, visually impaired people, in places of leisure and in all areas of life, has the effect of breaking stigmas, of undermining walls of repulsion and of educating the public at large to see a person with disabilities as a full personality, and not simply as a function of his disability.

The existence of the Braille menu in a café or restaurant creates an expectation among its workers that people with visual impairments will be among their customers.  The ‘magic writing’ engages their curiosity, and when they finally meet a blind customer, they are eager to ask him about the script, and a conversation is opened up.  This conversation between waiter and customer changes the latter from an anonymous figure to a known, named acquaintance, with a certain sense of belonging to the place.

Humanity could presumably continue to survive without the presence of Braille menus in restaurants.  These menus, however, help blind customers to feel an integral part of the leisure environment.  Large-print menus, by contrast, are utterly essential to people with partial sight; the population at large does not grant these the attention with which fully blind people are lavished, too often leaving partially sighted people in a position of embarrassment.  The enormous gap between the ways in which the blind and partially sighted members of society are treated is a subject for another article; it may be said, however, that when people see a blind person they are generally more than enthusiastic to go out of their way to be of help.

‘Can’t See for Miles’, a magazine programme on issues relating to the blind and partially-sighted community, broadcast on Mount Scopus Radio and online. Sagi Yudovitz is a social activist who keeps a blog on the Israel Disability Experts’ Community site, abiliko.