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Eight Northampton restaurants to offer large-print, Braille menus

Thanks to an effort 18 months in the planning and with the financial backing of the Northampton Business Improvement District, eight downtown restaurants are now or soon will be offering large-print and Braille menus for the blind and visually impaired.

“I am really, really happy,” Eklund said. “I’ve always wanted an excuse to go to a restaurant. Now I have it.”

Eklund, chairwoman of the city’s Committee on Disabilities, floated the idea of encouraging Northampton restaurants to print menus in Braille in 2011 after eating at Applebee’s in Hadley, which provided such a menu.

“It was a great concept to be able to look at the menu on my own and not have to rely on anyone else to tell me what there was,” she said.

In a brief presentation before the City Council Thursday, Eklund said the project is a collaboration between the Committee on Disabilities, which will publicize the effort, and the BID, which will pay for the menus to be printed.

Eight restaurants have agreed to sign up so far, all at no cost to their businesses. They include Local Burger, Mama Iguana’s, Spoleto, Fitzwilly’s, Siam Square, Pizzeria Paradiso, Sierra Grille and Paul & Elizabeth’s.

Each restaurant will have four large-print menus created twice a year and two Braille menus printed once a year. The costs will vary from $135 to $220 per restaurant, depending on the size of their menu. Eklund said the BID will fund the service for any restaurant, whether or not it is a BID member.

Charles Bowles, president of the BID’s board of directors, said members were happy to endorse the project.

“It was a no-brainer,” Bowles told the council.

Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne L. LaBarge, the council’s liaison to the Committee on Disabilities, said she is thrilled the initiative is moving forward and that those who are blind or have vision problems won’t feel like they have to travel out of the city for a good meal.

“I know our wish has come true and I want to thank the BID ... and all the restaurant owners who have opened the doors to really make people who have different types of disabilities to be able to have a good quality of life,” LaBarge said.

Eklund said she is hopeful more restaurants will join the cause in the future, a sentiment City Council President William H. Dwight echoed.

“I look forward to it being all the rage in the restaurants throughout the city,” Dwight said.

Customer service

Representatives for the restaurants that will offer the menus said they are doing so as a customer service.

“We have some clientele that needs to have assistance,” said Nate Sustick, manager of Paul & Elizabeth’s in Thornes Marketplace. “The Northampton BID is helping us out with these menus.”

“We want to help other people and do something for the community,” said Tanny Ukgaitham, spokeswoman for Siam Square Thai Restaurat at 84 Pleasant St.

Matthew Gibbs, manager of Fitzwilly’s at 23 Main St., which is undergoing renovations, said the idea of offering Braille menus had been discussed at the restaurant but put on hold until the menus could be designed and produced by someone with experience.

“There isn’t someone in town who can just print one up,” he said.

Claudio Guerra, owner of the Spoleto Restaurant Group, which owns Spoleto at 1 Bridge St., Pizzeria Paradiso at 12 Crafts Ave. and Mama Iguana’s at 271 Main St., said offering Braille and large-print menus “is a wonderful idea.”

“The BID is doing an incredible job,” he said. “This is just awesome.”

“The more people we can make feel good, the more people we can accommodate, the better,” he said, noting his Northampton restaurants and the Spoleto in East Longmeadow and Mama Iguana’s in Springfield already make provisions to accommodate vegetarian diners and those with allergies to gluten.

The only difficulty will be to ensure that restaurant servers are up-to-date on menu changes that can be explained to diners with vision problems, because Spoleto changes its offerings more than twice a year to emphasize fresh, seasonal items, Guerra said. “That’s going to be a challenge,” he said.

Large-print menus are also an excellent idea for restaurants with low-light ambiance, Guerra said, and for aging patrons whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

“I’m one of them,” said Guerra, who is 51. “When I turned 50, suddenly I needed reading glasses.”

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