Op-Ed: Eating on Campus With a Visual Impairment

When you’re on campus and hungry, most people have a lot of options. You can go to Cherry Street Market. You can go to the Hawk’s Nest Bistro or to the Bottom Line. You can go to one of the many restaurants off campus. If you’re in a real hurry, you can even pump a few quarters into one of the many vending machines scattered across Seattle University. Depending on how much time and money you have, the world of lunch is your proverbial oyster. However, if you happen to have a visual disability, that oyster snaps shut.

Of the previously mentioned options, none are truly accessible for a person who can’t see well—or at all. The vending machines, with their lack of Braille or voice options, may as well not even exist. So let us focus on the theoretically possible.

The Bottom Line is a bit better; at least, it is possible to get food from there. If the line isn’t too long—good luck with that—you could ask one of the helpful employees to read the entire menu to you. Or, because their menu is limited, it is possible to memorize the entire thing. Either way, a blind or mostly blind person must take up their own time and brain space, or the time of the people behind them in line, neither of which are great choices.

At the Hawk’s Nest you face the same issues, though with a much larger menu the problems are exacerbated. These same issues hold true for the rest of the cafes scattered throughout campus. But with a few simple steps, the trepidation and uncertainty felt by students with visual disabilities who are simply trying to order lunch or dinner could easily be assuaged. A simple Braille menu option, an accessible online menu, or even a paper menu that a person could take home and memorize, would all be cheap, quick and easy fixes for the cafes.

Cherry Street Market, on the other hand, is a completely different situation. With a seemingly constant stream of people, a haphazard layout, and a plethora of choices, the cafeteria is as useful as the vending machines to a person with visual disabilities—that is to say, not in the least bit useful.


The entrance to Cherry Street Market .


Take the burger stand as an example. To order a burger you first have to fill out an order slip. In order to fill that out, you must first find where they are. You can ask one of the workers there to fill out out the slip for you, but you are just as likely to be told, “Sorry, too busy,” as you are to receive help. So that place isn’t really an option.

I would talk more about the other stands in Cherry Street, but I have no idea what they are. There is simply no accessible way to find out what the options are in Cherry Street. A visually disabled person can’t simply stroll through a jam-packed room of students and peruse the various selections. Even if a blind person did know all of their food options in Cherry Street, they would have no way of knowing where those options were located inside of student-filled, maze-like cafeteria. Cherry Street Market is an inaccessible mess. It seems like it would take a major overhaul in order to make the cafeteria more accessible to folks with serious vision problems.

I understand that there aren’t many students at Seattle U with visual disabilities. And I also understand that accessibility isn’t a sexy, hot button issue these days. Nor do I want to sound like a whiner or some helpless baby. I merely want to bring to light that in most cases, some simple solutions already exist for these issues and so they could be easily rectified with little cost or effort. Almost everything in the life of a person with a visual disability takes longer and is more challenging than normal. It would sure be nice if ordering lunch didn’t have to be one of those things.

We’re not looking for special treatment. We’re not looking for shortcuts. All we want is to be able to order lunch or dinner without having to memorize a menu like we’re cramming for a test, or constantly swallow our pride in order to swallow our meal.

Joseph Richter

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