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How Kiosks Could Help Deaf, Foreign Language Customers at Restaurants

Looking for a simple lunch, a deaf woman recently went into an Alabama restaurant and jotted down her order on a piece of paper. The waiter hustled the request to the kitchen, where the cooks tried to decipher the woman's handwriting. But when the sandwich was delivered, it contained tomatoes, which she had said in writing she did not want. Frustrated, the woman went back-and-forth with the waiter for a few minutes to explain exactly what she wanted. The sandwich ended up having to be remade.
The inability of restaurants to communicate effectively with all customers both threatens to hurt their businesses and serves as an opportunity to generate additional revenue. But what might seem like an operational hurdle actually can be an easy fix with long-term financial benefits.
Self-ordering kiosks featuring capabilities such as sign language and foreign language translations allow people with conversational difficulties to communicate more easily represent solutions that minimize order errors and strengthen the customer experience. Such technology would enable restaurants to cater to a different segment of the population – scores of people who struggle with basic communication, not only those who are deaf.
Implementing kiosk solutions could also provide an easy avenue for ordering for those with physical impairments, brain injuries and mental disabilities. It could also benefit for those with communication problems who also suffer food allergies, to ensure their messages or notes aren’t misunderstood.
About 54 million Americans have some sort of disability, reports the ADA National Network. Of those some 15 percent of Americans – roughly 49 million people, based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics – are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, requires restaurants to accommodate those with disabilities of all types. So when it comes to accommodating diners with mental and physical challenges, the ADA National Network recommends that restaurants not only make their facilities accessible to all, but also the ability to order, purchase and enjoy a meal as freely as any able person.
One of the tools expected to be key in better connecting restaurants with diners is a unique kiosk by the name of “OubliÉ” recently released from Juke Slot. With the ability to display on a counter or in an upright stand, OubliÉ have the ability to function as a normal self-ordering kiosk as well as cater to deaf, hard of hearing, blind and those who speak a foreign language.
Its Android-based software is customizable, meaning restaurateurs can tailor the interface to their – and their customers’ – needs. For example, a restaurant not only can display its full menu on the screen, but also can allow customers to modify meals to their liking. The device’s versatility positions it as a key solution in how business is conducted effectively and efficiently in a host of applications. At high-traffic times, kiosks can be used to allow customers to order and pay on demand, creating shorter line waits.
Tailoring the units to overcome communications barriers only increases the machines’ impact and value. The deaf woman at the Alabama restaurant indicated after her incorrect order that a kiosk would’ve prevented problems.
Realizing the need to deploy a machine that enables users of all types and capabilities to use it easily, Juke Slot is developing a patent interface that specifically provides the deaf and hard of hearing a more inviting experience. Juke Slot’s ADA compliant software enables users to change the interface language to sign language, including a virtual avatar translating all customer selections in ASL.
Unfortunately, communicating through writing isn’t always a viable option. Many who are deaf read at a third-grade level, said Emily Ann Friedberg, an agriculture teacher with the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf. And many only write at a fourth-grade level.
Juke Slot has partnered with the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf to survey and work with individuals in that organization to provide feedback to Juke Slot as it deploys its software ordering system. The goal is to ensure the interface continually meets those users’ needs.
The technology could bridge a long-standing communications gap within the restaurant industry, said Jimmy Peterson, executive director of the Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Peterson, who is deaf, has quickly become a fan of kiosks that, he said, provides convenience in ordering and confidence that his experience will be satisfactory. He recalled going to an Atlanta McDonald’s last week, which didn’t have kiosks. So he wrote down his order, and handed it to the person at the counter. When he received his food, the order was wrong and he was overcharged. He complained to the manager, but the manager became upset that Peterson hadn’t been quick enough in placing his order and that caused issues in the fulfillment process.
“That’s a pretty common mishap,” Peterson said.
Kiosks with the sort of interface Juke Slot plans to implement could not only prevent mistakes, but also increase business by building relationships with new clientele, Peterson said.
“It’s so easy; very easy and very efficient,” Peterson said of restaurant kiosks. “If I order something, I normally write it down or text it. With the kiosk, there’s a screen where I can view sign language from an avatar when ordering. I can catch what they’re doing, and it means less mistakes being made when I order.”
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