Accessibility AT Restaurants

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Whether it is home-cooked or restaurant-bought, everyone loves a yummy meal. Some people enjoy the dining experience with loved ones or friends, while others celebrate special occasions. Restaurants provide convenience for those who choose not to cook, and they also offer a range of cuisines and dining options that may not be available at home. Accessibility in restaurants is important to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to dine out and enjoy a meal. 

Two smiling people, one of them in a wheelchair, cheer beer with others in a restaurant. In an outlined box, the Where it's AT logo sits above text that reads - Accessibility AT Restaurants,

What makes a restaurant accessible?

Accessibility in restaurants is crucial to enable everyone to enjoy a meal, with that in mind, restaurant owners and managers should take into account various factors that can affect the accessibility of their establishment. 

Physical Accessibility: Physical obstacles, such as stairs, narrow doorways, and uneven flooring, can make it challenging for some people to access a restaurant. According to the ADA, restaurants must provide ramps or lifts if there are stairs that lead to the dining area or bathroom, space between seats must create an aisle large enough for a wheelchair user to fit through, and tables should be at a reachable height for wheelchair users. Also, there must be one accessible parking space for every 25 parking spaces. Restaurant owners should ensure their establishment is accessible and that there is enough space for all to enjoy their meals.

Vision Accessibility: Restaurants should adequately light their premises to help people with disabilities that interact with their vision navigate the space. Using contrasting colors on walls, flooring, menus, and table settings can also aid people. Restaurants can create accessible menus by creating a menu with a sans-serif font and ensuring that the menu is not overcrowded. Offering options such as QR codes, braille or large print menus can also help with vision accessibility. Read more on menu accessibility here.

Hearing Accessibility: Restaurants should be mindful of background noise levels for individuals who use hearing devices or those that have sensitive sensory levels. One way to achieve this is to incorporate sound-absorbing materials and offer closed captions for televisions.

Bathroom Accessibility: To make restrooms more accessible to guests, it’s important to include at least one accessible bathroom stall in each restroom. This stall should include features such as grab bars on the back and side wall and a wider door that swings outward instead of in. Additionally, it’s important to consider aspects such as sink height. A sink that’s lower to the ground would be helpful for guests who may have difficulty reaching a standard-height sink.

By considering accessibility factors, restaurants become more accommodating and create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all of their guests.

Service Animals 

Service animals are dogs of any size or breed that have been trained to perform a task that helps a person with a disability.  Service animals are allowed in most places the public is allowed, even if the restaurant/location has a no pets policy. When finding seating in a restaurant, an individual is not required to sit outside due to their service dog. This applies to restaurants, hospitals, schools, hotels, shops, and some housing. More information can be found on the ADA Service Animals page.

AT for your Restaurant Experience 

Magnifiers are a great option for reading menus. Many phones have magnifiers that are built into the phone as an accessibility feature, if you need support using this built-in AT, there are tutorials for how to use the magnifier on Apple devices and Android devices.  A magnifying glass with light can be helpful at night or in low-light restaurants and a credit-card-size magnifier is small enough to fit in a wallet and can be conveniently stored while traveling. There are a variety of magnifiers available, it is just a matter of finding the right one for you.

Dinnerware at restaurants are not always accessible to everyone, in those instances, there is AT that can be used in their place. A few examples are weighted silverware, Ea Zy Hold grips, anti-slip plates, and plates with suction cups. Check out a previous Where It’s AT blog for more information on accessible kitchen tools and utensils.

AAC options ranging from apps like Proloquo2Go or TouchChat to less techy/expensive options like Communication cards, are great tools for individuals who need support communicating their needs while dining. There are a variety available for purchase and many communication cards can also be printed from home. 

OrCam MyEyes is a device for people who are blind or who have low-vision which assists in performing daily activities such as reading a menu, money recognition, reading labels, and more. The device easily attaches to a pair of glasses. 

While traveling abroad, apps for translation become essential for communication. These apps can especially be used while dining. Some translation apps that can translate both text and written material are Google Translate, Microsoft Translate, and ITranslate.  

How to find accessible restaurants?

Wheelmap is a free, worldwide search engine on wheelchair accessibility. Restaurants, shopping, hotels, transport, and a lot more can be searched through Wheelmap. The location’s accessibility is scored by using a traffic light rating system. Green means fully wheelchair accessible, yellow is partially wheelchair accessible, and red means not wheelchair accessible at all. 

IAccess Life is another great search engine for accessibility. It is a mobile app that allows users to rate the accessibility of a location and share their experiences with others. This is an awesome tool to use for research before arriving at a location. The app is available for download on the App Store and  Google Play.

Friendly Like Me is similar to IAccess Life in the sense that users can rate and share their experiences at certain locations.  It is a place users can share their advice or tips when visiting a new location. Friendly Like Me is available through the web, App Store, and Google Play. There is also a Facebook page that users can use to chat with local people. 

Accessibility Outside of California

There are many resources to look up accessible restaurants in other states and countries as well. Here is a list of a few of those resources: 

Restaurant Spotlights


Mozzeria is a deaf-owned-and-operated Neapolitan pizza place with two locations: San Francisco and DC. Mozzeria was created to provide more career opportunities to the deaf community and provide an inclusive and supportive work environment. 

Ada’s Cafe is a cafe and catering nonprofit whose mission is to hire, train, and empower adults with disabilities. It started because a mother, Kathleen, wanted her son to have more opportunities to learn independence in middle school. This student class quickly grew into a cafe with career opportunities for adults. 

Able Coffee Roasters is a coffee shop that imports beans from small farms and creates career opportunities for people with disabilities. This coffee shop was founded by a chef tuned Behavior Therapist. There are 2 locations: Huntington Beach and Fullerton. 

Outside of California

Dark Table simulates the experience of eating a meal while blind by eating in complete darkness. The restaurant is run by servers who are blind or have low-vision. This experience has become popular in quite a lot of cities and countries. More options are in Mexico, Ecuador, Paris, San Franciscoand more.    

Beanz and Co is an inclusive coffee shop and catering business, in Connecticut, that hires people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). Their mission is to create a welcoming environment for everyone. 

Howdy Homemade Ice Cream is an ice cream shop that was created to tackle the unemployment rate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). The goal is a work environment that will create confidence and pride for the employees. There are 7 locations in 5 different states and is now being franchised. 

Check out more accessible restaurants at 9 Restaurants That Hire People With Disabilities and Special Needs and The Top 50 Wheelchair Accessible Restaurants in the U.S.

And with that, Bon Appétit!