Saturday, September 21, 2013

On a Menucard in Braille: In OPEN magazine this week

This made it to page one inside the magazine :)
Read the heavily edited version of the story here or see below.

Photo: Vivek Muthuramalingam for OPEN magazine

In the upmarket Bangalore neighbourhood of Koramangala, restaurants have to reinvent themselves to keep people interested. There always are cheaper or cooler places to go to. But at Om, a vegetarian restaurant popular with the office crowd for its thalis, it isn’t about hipness. It’s about being convenient even for the differently-abled. Om has menu cards in Braille for the visually challenged and in large fonts for those with low vision.

A chance conversation and proximity to EnAble India, an NGO that works with the differently-abled, set things in motion. The EnAble India office is close to the shopping complex which houses Om restaurant and its employees and volunteers often eat lunch there. Among other things, the NGO has programs for the visually challenged. These groups too frequent the restaurant, holding each other’s hands, their white sticks tapping against the concrete floor. One afternoon, Bhavna Jain, the owner of Om, met Gangamma, a 21-year old visually-challenged Bharatanatyam dancer who had just returned after performing in the US. When it was time to order, the girl asked a waiter to read out the menu to her. “That’s when it struck me how unfair it was that someone who could travel the world had to depend on someone else for something as mundane as ordering her lunch,” says Jain.

Gayathri Iyer, Sharath H N and a team of a few others from EnAble India, all visually challenged themselves, volunteered to design the menu card in Braille. On Ugadi festival this year in April, Om Restaurant made it possible for the visually challenged to be a little more independent. “We complain about such small things when we go out, but we don’t realize what the visually challenged have to contend with. In countries abroad there are many facilities for them, not so in India,” says Jain.

Sharath, who is visually-challenged and was part of the group that designed the menu card, says, “It (the menu card) was one of our employability projects, which also include money pouches to identify currency notes, taking print outs, etc. There was another restaurant which also printed their menu card in Braille, but never used it. Om is the only one which does.”

Om restaurant has a dozen menu cards in all, two of which are in Braille and use large fonts. For now, EnAble India has kept one with them. Apart from thali, the restaurant serves a few other meals. “It isn’t an extensive menu. Though our visually challenged patrons know what’s on the menu, they still ask for the card,” says Jain. She says that the patronage from the visually challenged has increased after the Braille menu card was introduced.

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