NAB’s Hugh Spence, who lost his sight completely aged 16, was one of the judges this year and here he reflects on what ‘Dining for All’ means for him.
So this year saw the first ever ‘Dining for All’ award from a partnership between Northamptonshire’s Sight Support charity, NAB and the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards (#NFDA19).
I was delighted to present this award to Nuovo in Northampton and the runner-up was The Red Lion in Cranford. So what was it like judging the competition and what sis we look for?
Dining out is something we all enjoy doing, but when you have a visual impairment it’s made a little bit more difficult. I enjoy nothing more than good food and good company out in a restaurant, pub or café. But I, like most others, face difficulties. How will I read the menu? Will it be too loud? What will the waiters/waitresses be like? These are just a few things I have to think about before I even attempt to go for a meal out.
So this year NAB and #NFDA19 came up with the idea of the “Dining for All” award to recognise those eateries who not only service exceptional food but also go the extra mile for people with sensory impairments, particularly sight loss.
I had the pleasure of being on the judging panel for this award and was very surprised to see what lengths some restaurants/pubs put in place so that the dining experience for people with disabilities is made easier and more enjoyable.
So how did the judging go? I was very surprised at the standard of the food and how nice it really was! Such a hardship to eat out at 6 exceptional venues all for work! But how did they cope with me as a visually impaired diner? Well there was a number of different things I was looking for.
- Was their website accessible? An accessible website is very important to me when I’m going out for a meal as I like to know what’s on the menu before I go so that I can choose what I’m going to eat. This is for two reasons: 1) so that I can be a bit more independent about accessing the menu and 2) when a restaurant is busy I do not like asking the waiter/waitress to read the menu to me although most of the waiter/waitress is a more than happy to do this. It’s important to remember that writing on blackboards and ‘specials’ are not accessible.
- Was there an alternative format of the menu when I arrived? Again this can be very important as if someone cannot access the Internet but would still like to have a look at the menu, large print and/or braille can be very helpful. Also a number of establishments across the country have started doing audio menus which I think is an excellent idea. Some restaurants use an online booking system that asks for any other comments. We specifically mentioned when booking that one of the diners was visually impaired but this didn’t always get picked up by the restaurant.
- Did the waiter/waitress notice my visual impairment and after noticing change their behaviour towards me? We should also recognise that the vast majority of visual impairments are not. When I say change behaviour I don’t mean act differently but just take notice of my disability and do things to help me enjoy my evening, these include letting me know where my drink is on the table, let me know when my food has been placed on the table, guiding or assisting me to the disabled toilets and much more.
- Lighting and accessibility when going to your table. For some visually impaired people lighting is very important. The more light the better but what we have to remember is restaurants/pubs have to go for an ambience. What I was very pleased to see in a lot of the restaurants/pubs I went to was that once they were informed about my visual impairment I was placed in the lightest area. It’s great to see that people are using their common sense and doing this automatically.
So in conclusion I have to say this was a great experience and I really enjoyed visiting lots of different restaurants/pubs to see how accessible they all were. I really hope that this award will open the eyes of some establishments to try and make their restaurant/pub more accessible and easy for people with disabilities to visit.
I congratulate all of the participants on the excellent food and congratulations to the winner and runner-up of this award – your establishments are fantastic and I would not hesitate to recommend you both to other visually impaired and disabled people.