McDonalds’ Israel recently announced that it will outfit many of its stores with a voice assisted app that will assist blind customers and those suffering from dementia. This technology will create a “ramp for the blind”, as RightHear CEO and co-founder Idan Meir described it to Restaurant Dive, and help those customers with tasks that other consumers take for granted such as reading a menu or finding the bathroom. But, this full breadth of this technology won’t be found in its utility. Rather, it will be found in how it continues a revolution already reshaping the restaurant industry.
All restaurants have to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, many don’t go further than adding a wheelchair accessibility ramp. By adding the “ramp for the blind”, McDonalds Israel is going beyond the pale of what’s expected from businesses in terms of inclusivity for those suffering from disabilities.
Some big name companies like Starbucks put their employees through many hours of inclusivity training to help them be prepared for when they need to serve disabled customers. Starbucks has gone so far as to invest in two singing cafes in Malaysia and in Washington D.C. that hire deaf employees. Customers at those cafes can use computers to type in their order so that it is correctly communicated to the staff.
But these solutions are employee-centric and serve no benefit to the customer themselves other than simply educating employees on how to help disabled customers. What McDonalds Israel has done is put the power of autonomy back in the disabled customers’ hands, thereby allowing them to act as any other patron would in a restaurant.
This technology works by using small rock-like sensors that are connected to a central communication system that gives directions or beeps when an app user passes one of the sensors. For restaurants with double-doors, this technology would provide step-by-step instructions for disabled persons. Even those with multiple levels, the customer would hear “please watch your step for X number of stairs”.
It is in the early stages of development, so there are some bugs currently being worked out. Specifically, in busy restaurants where patrons and staff swoop past the sensors, it could mean that those who need the app will have to open it before getting up from the table and closing it after they return in order to avoid hearing unwanted announcements.
Since McDonalds Israel operates independently from McDonalds corporate, it is unclear whether or not other McDonalds will incorporate this technology. However, having such a big brand embrace this technology could cause others to follow suit. That would go a long way toward making restaurants the truly inclusive, community-centric organizations they are meant to be.