Restaurant food

How restaurants are becoming more accessible for disabled people

Many restaurants are beginning to bear in mind access issues for those with both physical and cognitive disabilities. It is true, however, that some of the restaurants with the best physical access tend to be modern chains, rather than the more appealing quirky little backstreet cafés and interesting independent bistros. And, of course, it’s no good having level floors, wheelchair spaces and easy access to the toilets if the attitude of the staff and fellow diners is not inclusive and welcoming to all.

In this article, Rough Guides look at some of the best restaurant practices and explore what sort of things can improve a restaurant experience for those with disabilities of all types, from autism to hearing problems to blindness to physical issues. They’ll also look at some of those independent restaurants that are getting it right.

German Gymnasium

German Gymnasium: © Shutterstock

The Blue Badge Style Awards have been held annually since 2015, and recognize stylish restaurants, hotels and bars that have good facilities and a welcoming attitude to those who may need some extra help. They were the idea of Fiona Jarvis who has MS but refused to accept that having mobility issues means that you can’t have style. The restaurants are rated according to whether they have good facilities and easy access, but also whether they are cool and buzzy – after all, who wants to go to a dull restaurant with no atmosphere, just because it has an accessible toilet? The German Gymnasium in London’s Kings Cross, for example, has won an award for having a particularly stylish loo, but also for being elegant and easy to access for those in wheelchairs, despite being a listed building. The Blue Badge Style website campaigns to improve disabled facilities in restaurants. It also runs useful reviews detailing the access, facilities and atmosphere of restaurants, bar and pubs around the country.

And, of course, it’s not just accessibility that can be a problem, particularly when you are dining with friends or family on the autism spectrum. Many restaurants nowadays publish their menus online, which is very helpful for planning ahead and knowing exactly what to expect. You can explain any unfamiliar dishes and even choose what you want to eat in advance.

The Gate Restaurant

The Gate: © The Gate Restaurants

Restaurants such as The Gate in London’s Islington have put in place several initiatives to become more inclusive to those on the spectrum. Winner of the UK’s first Autism Friendly Award from the National Autistic Society, The Gate’s staff are specifically trained to work with those on the spectrum, and there’s a chill-out zone for those who may need some quiet time. Oh, and they also serve really delicious sustainable vegetarian and vegan food too!

Diners who are hard of hearing, or on the spectrum, may prefer quieter restaurants, with little or no background noise. Action on Hearing Loss runs the Speak Easy campaign, which is calling for restaurants and cafés to consider turning down background music, or having music-free zones and adding soft furnishings to absorb noise. Some top-end restaurants are even adding carpet to the undersides of their tables and sound-dampening panels on the ceilings, in order to muffle noise while retaining a fashionable minimal aesthetic. The campaign also encourages people to make restaurants more aware of noise issues, and to complain where there are problems: its website has a sample letter that can be sent to restaurant chains pointing out problems.

Soundprint restaurant

Soundprint: © Soundprint

A useful app called Soundprint comes with a meter to measure and submit decibel levels in restaurants. It then lists those places that have been measured, so that users can find out the level of noise in restaurants near them, and choose accordingly.

The Grange

The Grange: © Paul Wilkinson/Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

The Grange near Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire, is a great example of a restaurant that has been specifically designed to take into account the needs of the hard of hearing and those with mobility issues, without compromising on the restaurant experience. The building has acoustic flooring, “sound clouds” to absorb noise, a hearing loop and good access. Assistance dogs and well-behaved pet dogs are welcome, and some of the staff have BSL training – and all the profits from the restaurant go to the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.

Dans le noir restaurant

Dans le Noir main: © Dans le Noir

And there is one unique restaurant in London, where having a visual disability is a positive advantage. At Dans le Noir in Clerkenwell, the whole experience of having a meal takes place completely in the dark. Guests are met at the door and guided to their tables, where they sit next to strangers and are served a surprise meal. Eating food you can’t see and talking to people you can’t see is normal for those with sight issues, but others will have to learn to trust their heightened senses of taste, smell and sound – and to put their faith in the waiting staff, most of whom have visual impairments.

The restaurant also has an on-site silent disco, the Otra Vista Social Club (from Wednesdays to Sundays), run by people with hearing loss, who teach sign language and communication skills, and devise a playlist that will get everyone dancing.

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Image Credits

Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):

Header image: © Dans le Noir

German Gymnasium: © Shutterstock

The Gate: © The Gate Restaurants

Soundprint: © Soundprint

The Grange: © Paul Wilkinson/Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Dans le Noir main: © Dans le Noir

From the Motability Scheme


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