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Taiwan moves toward all-inclusive services

Taiwan moves toward all-inclusive services

Most disabled diners would agree that eating out in Taiwan is not the easiest of propositions given the limited number of restaurants offering all-inclusive services. To address this issue, the nonprofit ROC League of Welfare Organizations for the Disabled and Taiwan Foundation for Rare Disorders launched a project last August aimed at finding restaurants that offer full access for the disabled.

After three months assessing the lay of the land concerning restaurant accessibility, the organizations released a guidebook and the Love Michelin Taipei app featuring 55 dining establishments in Taipei and New Taipei cities able to accommodate disabled diners.

“This initiative aims to help the disabled enjoy a more active and normal social life,” LWOD Deputy Secretary-General Wang You-ling said. “Also, it is an indicator of those restaurants willing to improve their services and do more to understand the needs of the disabled.”

The guidebook and app are the first of their kind in Taiwan, Wang said, adding that they will increase public hospitality industry awareness of barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from accessing restaurants in their communities.

While Wang applauds the restaurants for their efforts, she said the ROC government has played a key role in sowing the seeds of change. The Ministry of the Interior passed a drafted amendment last August stipulating that existing restaurants larger than 300 square meters require facilities to accommodate the disabled, she added.

“But many restaurants are less than 300 square meters and exempt from this law,” Wang said. “It is important to educate the public that the minimal cost and inconvenience in making a restaurant more accessible to people with disabilities is worth the effort.”

Under the project, the charities trained 10 physically challenged volunteers and had them inspect restaurants’ accessibility, as well as rate them in private on the basis of criteria such as access for wheelchairs, automatic or sliding doors, elevators, disabled lavatories, special menus for the visually challenged and ease of ordering for the hearing impaired.

The 55 restaurants, ranging from cafes to Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Thai eateries, stood out for their progress toward full accessibility and adoption of best practices, Wang said, adding that after dining the inspectors would reveal the purpose of their visit and advise restaurants on how to take their service up a notch.

“Instead of criticism, we hope this advice will encourage restaurants to identify and remove barriers, accommodating customers with disabilities on par with the rest of us,” Wang said.

Echoing Wang’s remarks, Serena Wu, managing director of the board and founder of Taiwan Foundation for Rare Disorders, told Taiwan Today in a telephone interview Jan. 8 that people with disabilities face difficulty dining out as a result of the public’s lack of understanding of their needs. “For those in wheelchairs, a single step could mean they have no hope of getting to the dining area.”

Wu said she came up with the idea of promoting all-inclusive restaurants because dining out is an important social activity and the easiest way of forging memories with close friends and family members. “This experience contributes to helping those with disabilities improve their mental and physical well-being.”

According to Wu, the initiative also encompasses seniors, parents with toddlers, expecting mothers and those with injuries, a group accounting for at least 4.7 million of Taiwan’s total population.

“How a city and country treat its challenged members of society is an important indicator of social progress and overall happiness,” Wu said. “The public and private sectors in Taiwan have worked wonders in making the country friendlier for such people, but fineness and depth are equally important characters when it comes to social education.”

Wu holds that for any similar project to succeed, the public must be encouraged to participate and identify with the idea. “After a period of time, it will grow and become a habit, eventually forming part of the culture.

“This progress takes time but Taiwan people have big hearts,” she said, lavishing praise on Wang and her team’s efforts in making the project a reality, as well as Lin Chong-wey, assistant professor of National Chiao Tung University’s Department of Communications and Technology, for his contribution.

Lin, who also doubles as director of the NCTU Digital Creativity and Marketing Strategy Laboratory, said the Love Michelin Taipei guide and app help local residents and overseas tourists enjoy friendly dining services in Taipei and improve the city’s quality of life.

“There are thousands of restaurant guide apps in Taiwan, but none of them is designed for people with disabilities,” Lin said. “The Love Michelin app is an a la carte product that gives people real dining options.”

Categorizing restaurants in the categories of cuisine, particular disabled access and proximity to Taipei Metro routes, the app also provides restaurant information comprising address, phone number, photos, street-view, GPS-navigated maps, websites, and the team’s evaluation on handicap friendliness.

Since its launch in October 2012, the Chinese-language app has more than 10,000 downloads and won several awards, including the International ICT Innovative Services Contest and Taipei International Digital Content Awards.

The app received glowing reviews from overseas visitors, who used it when traveling in Taiwan, Lin said, describing Love Michelin Taipei as an innovative social platform that trains and recruits handicapped volunteers to work as inspectors, encouraging and inspiring them to embrace new possibilities in their lives and career.

“Our approach acknowledges that those in need understand their situations the best and can perform invaluable work in educating the broader community,” he said. “This also extends to our rapidly growing seniors’ demographic.”

The latest MOI statistics showed there were 2.58 million seniors in Taiwan as of last October, accounting for 11 percent of the total population. The ministry estimates that this number will hit 14 percent by 2018 and 20 percent by 2025.

Lin said his team, comprising seven NCTU students, has decided to build the app into a social business model and expand the number of featured restaurants to 1,000 in Taipei City this year. They are also looking to roll the project out in other cities Taiwanwide and boost coverage, he added.

“This is a long-term commitment rather than one-time effort,” Lin said. “I’m really proud of my students who are giving so much to the initiative and improving the lives of others.” (JSM)