A blind entrepreneur has launched a new app to revolutionise the way Britain's 1.5 million visually impaired people eat out in the country's restaurants. Matthew Wadsworth created the Good Food Talks app after discovering many blind and visually impaired people share his frustration at having menus read out loud to them.
Good Food Talks uses GPS tracking to display the nearest dining outlets signed up to the scheme. It uses a database of menus and the accessibility functions of your smartphone to take the stress out of ordering.
While some restaurants offer Braille menus, this is not a complete solution since only 1 per cent of people in this category in the UK can read Braille. Braille and large-print menus are also difficult to keep up to date. The businessman and musician, 38, was convinced there was a better way and the solution came to hand – his smartphone.
"The idea is that whether you are totally blind and use the text-to-speech software or simply need to invert colours or zoom to make things clearer, the app makes ordering in a restaurant a less stressful experience," said Mr Wadsworth.
In a survey run in conjunction with the Macular Society, the entrepreneur found that 87 per cent of visually impaired diners rely on their companions to read the menu aloud. Mr Wadsworth added: "The hope is that, with the app, everyone at the table is more equal, making dining out more dignified for everyone."
Mr Wadsworth isn't your everyday businessman. Born blind, he was the first blind student to attend the Royal Academy of Music and is a lute virtuoso. Last year, he played at the Paralympics closing ceremony.
The principle behind Good Food Talks is that "visually impaired people shouldn't have to pay to read a restaurant menu". Instead, restaurants pay to upload menus and the scheme has been welcomed by the Sustainable Restaurant Association. A spokesman for the organisation said, "It should be a no-brainer for any restaurant to have better access to blind and visually impaired customers." In addition to 77 branches of Carluccio's, the app has already been adopted by half a dozen independent restaurants in London. Mr Wadsworth has his sights set on signing up other major chains, including Giraffe and Nandos.
Simon Kossoff, chief executive officer of Carluccio's, said: "This is such an obvious idea and the technology is so simple that it amazes me nobody has done it before."
About 360,000 people are registered blind in the UK but as many as 1.5 million people are visually impaired to some extent, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Macular Society.
Adrian Lee, 55, a blind musician from London, is one of app's early adopters. He said: "I'm restricted to a few places that I know if I don't want somebody else to read the menu out to me. This app has the potential not only to give me more independence, but also far more choice."