23 Mar Dining in the dark: turning accessibility on its head
The triumph of dark restaurants, including the global Dans le Noir? brand and the Blindkuh (‘Blind Cow’) restaurants in Switzerland – where dining out is experienced through senses other than sight – flip accessibility on its head. Dark restaurants usually have two aims: heightened sensory experience; and awareness and support for visual impairment.
Served and guided by staff who are blind or visually impaired themselves, dark restaurants offer an inclusive and equal experience to all. But do mainstream restaurants offer the same when it comes to visually impaired patrons?
285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision, according to the World Health Organisation. 2 million people in the UK have some form of visual impairment.
How do these people experience eating out? Some restaurants do have large text or Braille menus, yet less than 1 per cent of visually impaired people can actually read Braille.
According to Good Food Talks, a platform that offers mobile accessible menu access, a staggering 87% of people with visual impairment rely either on a friend or the waiting staff to read the menu to them when they eat out.
There are around 56,000 restaurants in the UK – a market worth more than £25 billion per annum. Stand-alone restaurants (as opposed to pub, hotel, in-store and roadside restaurants) account for about a fifth of the total, or £5.4 billion, and the fast-food restaurant sector accounts for a further £6.7 billion.
The uptake of mobile technology could be one way to address the inclusivity balance. Good Food Talks is a platform that aims to empower people with visual impairments to access and browse restaurant menus on their smartphones, tablets and computers in a way that most suits them and their vision. Options include audio, large text, inverted colours as well as using an Open Dyslexic Font. It is free for users to access, and charges restaurants a fee of £199 per year to use it. It currently provides accessible menus for over 20 restaurants and chains, including Carluccio’s, Nando’s and Pret A Manger.
More about dark restaurants and events:
- Blindekuh (which translates in English as ‘Blind Cow’) in Zurich was the world’s first dark restaurant; opening in 1999. It was followed by a sister restaurant in Basel in 2005. Both are run by the Blind-Liecht Foundation, one of Switzerland’s foremost employers for blind and partially sighted people.
- Chef Celia Brook’s recent Blindfolded Tasting Experiment at London’s Borough Market, on Disabled Access Day (12 March 2016), was hugely popular.
- The Dans le Noir? dining in darkness concept restaurants are across the world including in St Petersburg, New York, Riyadh, London and Paris. It’s a sensorial, social and human experience where guests dine in total darkness, guided and served by blind and visually impaired hosts. Whilst presenting a holistic and quality experience to blind and visually impaired diners, it opens up the chance to experience dining in total darkness to everyone. An experience which changes the view of the world and by reversing perspective.