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Summer 2003 Table of Contents
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Dining Out Made Easier

By Susan R. Hart, MS, TVI, RTC, Assistant Project Coordinator, Vision Rehabilitation Assistant Training Program, Lighthouse International.

Reprinted from Sharing Solutions, Spring 2003 with permission from Lighthouse International, www.lighthouse.org.

Dining out with friends and attending family celebrations should be pleasurable activities, but for people experiencing vision loss, they can be sources of great anxiety. As a person who is both visually impaired and a certified rehabilitation teacher, I'd like to share tips to increase your comfort level and confidence when dining outside your home. Vision loss need not stop you from life's enjoyments!

Planning Ahead Can Help

By familiarizing yourself with a menu in advance, you won't have to rely on reading it in a dimly lit restaurant. When possible, stop by and ask for a take-out menu to read at home. If you use a computer, check if the menu is available online. Or choose someplace you've been to before, particularly if you're dining alone.

If you know the menus of chain restaurants, dining there may be easier. Some chains may even have a consistent layout-making you more comfortable when navigating.

Getting Oriented

Ask the host/hostess to be seated in a well-lit area. If that's not possible, carry a small flashlight or hand-held, illuminated magnifier for reading the menu.

It's okay to ask dining companions to read the menu out loud. And if you're in a new restaurant, ask questions about your surroundings and table setting. If your vision is very limited, use your hands to lightly scan the area in front of you to familiarize yourself with the place setting and anything else on the table (glasses, salt, pepper, etc.).

Mealtime Advice

Rely on your common sense. For example, restaurants often serve salad with dressing already mixed in. To monitor the amount, ask for dressing on the side and spoon it on in a clockwise pattern.

Cutting Foods

One of the biggest challenges is cutting foods-especially meat. You can ask to have meat cut/fish boned, or you can cut your own meat using the "grid technique" (reverse the process if you're left-handed):

  1. Place your fork in the top, left-hand corner of the meat.
  2. Place your knife (blade side down) directly in front of your fork. Your knife and fork are now at the nine o'clock position.
  3. So you don't lose the groove you create with your knife, cut in a continuous sawing motion toward the three o'clock position, until the entire row has been cut.
  4. Move your fork down to form another row; repeat steps 2 and 3.
  5. Rotate the plate one-quarter turn to the right; repeat steps 1- 4.

Work on one row or column at a time. This will give you bite-size pieces and ensure that the meat stays warm as long as possible.

Food not only has texture but also weight. If the amount on your fork feels heavy - or if you're not sure how much is on the fork - cut that piece again. Keep cut pieces together in the center of the plate. You can also use your knife as a "wall" to move food onto your fork.

Choosing easy-to-eat foods can make dining less stressful. Order whatever you like, but remember that if certain foods are difficult to eat for a person with full sight, chances are they'll be difficult for you, too. For example, small bowtie pasta is easier to eat than long strands of linguine. Eating ice cream instead of cake is another example. But the grid technique works for dessert, too!

Paying the Bill

Use an adaptive method for identifying cash (sort bills and place them in different sections of your wallet, and/or fold them according to denomination). This helps the payment process go smoothly and keeps you in control of your money. Remember: newly printed bills have large, bold numbers on the back, lower-right-hand corner. If you're paying by credit card, carry a signature guide. Or, simply ask your companion or the cashier to darken, or place an "X" in front of, the signature line.

Basic adaptive techniques and a bit of pre-planning can put the ease and pleasure back into dining out. Bon appétit!

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Last Revision: August 19, 2003