Imagine not being able to do something as simple as read a restaurant’s menu. Fifteen-year-old blind student Sophie Trist said that’s a hurdle she faces time and again.
“Most restaurants do not have Braille menus. This can be a major problem for visually impaired individuals,” the Mandeville High School rising sophomore said. “If a sighted person does not accompany us, the simple task of ordering off of a menu becomes a challenge.”
Because she believes “blind people should have the same access to written materials, such as menus, as sighted people do,” she decided to start a summer business providing restaurants in the Mandeville, New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas with Braille menus. Braille is a system of printing and writing for the blind that uses raised dots to form characters felt with the fingers.
“I’ve been having the idea for a while,” Trist said.
With the help of her father, Will Trist, she sent out letters to about two dozen restaurants soliciting their business. In the letter, she said that for a fee of $30, she will transcribe a restaurant’s menu and provide the restaurant with a Braille copy. Trist can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She asks customers to include the name of the restaurant, contact information and any other specifics of the order.
Like most teenagers today, Trist has a smartphone — hers is set up to speak to her. She reads her emails on a Braille-Note Apex, which is a laptop computer without a screen. During the school year, the honor student takes notes and tests on her laptop.
Accompanied by her grandmother, Corinne Cook, Trist recently met with Ruffino’s Restaurant owner Ruffin Rodrigue to demonstrate how she transcribes a menu into Braille. She explained she requests her customer copy the menu and paste it into an email. She told Rodrigue she reads her emails on her laptop and then uses a Perkins Brailler, which looks similar to a heavy manual typewriter, to make the Braille menus.
“Don’t do this when you’re hungry,” she said as her fingers flew over the keyboard, which has only six keys that make all the combinations for letters, numbers and symbols.
It’s tiring to type for long periods of time, Trist said, because Braille requires the use of a heavy card stock to emboss the characters and it takes more pages to write the same amount of information on a printed page.
“I correct mistakes with a stylus. You just smooth it out. My mom (Allison Trist) then binds the pages for me and puts the restaurant’s logo on it,” she said.
One of the benefits of transcribing menus is finding out about the number of selections, she said.
When they eat out, her mother usually reads only the menu items she thinks her daughter will like. Trist favors Italian, Mexican, Lebanese and Greek foods.
Rodrigue ordered copies of each for his restaurant’s five menus: regular dinner, limited, Friday lunch, Sunday brunch and the wine list.
“My dad will like that,” Trist told Rodrigue when he added the wine list to his order. She thought it was a good idea to have the wine list in Braille. “There might be some blind wine connoisseur” come in to the restaurant.
Her other customers include Galatoire’s, Commander’s Palace, Palace Cafe, Dickie Brennan’s Steak House, Bourbon House and New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Co., which has nine locations in Metairie, Mandeville and New Orleans.
When it was suggested she not limit herself to local restaurants but also contact chain restaurants, she nixed the idea. “I’m not opening that can of worms. Remember, this is a one-woman business. My fingers can’t handle worldwide work.”
The American with Disabilities Act doesn’t require restaurants to offer blind patrons a Braille menu if a staff member or server is available to read it to them, according to the Louisiana Restaurant Association. But, association Chairman Dickie Brennan, a cousin of Will Trist, said in a news release that “having a Braille menu on hand provides restaurants with an efficient way to serve the visually impaired diner.”