Hello Everyone! What a crazy week it has been for me and that is why I am so thrilled that today is Friday! I am also excited that Monday is a holiday which means I get to sleep in late. Do any of you have plans for Labor Day weekend? Since today is Friday, it means that another edition of Fedora Outlier’s Follow Friday (#FF) interview series is ready for you to read.
For those who have Monday off from work, the weekend will probably be filled with neighborhood cookouts, picnics in the park, a meal at your favorite eatery or just a nice homemade meal at home. Labor Day weekend wouldn’t be the same without the involvement of a good meal, right?
Have you ever wanted to critique a favorite eating establishment you visit on a regular basis? How about the service you receive at a new pub or café? We are all aware that there are apps that can do this; however, Daniel Aronoff, the Blind Food Critic, gets to do this on a regular basis. Join me as I talk with Daniel and learn about what it’s like to be a food critic in the dark!
Editor’s Note: Daniel was scheduled to be a guest on this past Tuesday’s #AccessChat but was unable to participate due to a visit to the emergency room from a gallstone attack. Daniel is home recovering from his attack; however, I, and the entire team at Fedora Outlier, LLC want to say, “Get Well” soon!
Brie Rumery: For those of us who may not know who you are or what you do, please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Daniel Aronoff: Hi everyone, my name is Daniel Aronoff and I am the blind food critic! About 5 years ago, I started a blog about disability rights, sports, or just ranting about any random topic of the day. (I was inspired to write after finding that many such blogging platforms require captchas which are not accessible to the blind I.E. please enter the words from the picture in the box below.)
For your information, I am a born and raised New Yorker and I’m a huge fan of this city and our New York Yankees (although not so much this year.) I also have a master’s degree in social work and feel very passionate about helping others.
In January of 2009, I traveled to Brooklyn to the newly crowned number one pizzeria in New York City; I can vividly remember that day since it was snowing and my friend even joked with the waitress “hey this guy is the blind food critic!” After publishing my first food review, the feedback on facebook and my site was tremendous, and eventually I decided to register my own domain, www.blindtastetest.net, devoted to only restaurant reviews from the perspective of someone who is blind. Since then, I’ve attended several great events as a member of the press, including last year’s New York City chocolate show and this year’s Choice Streets food truck event.
Beyond my passion for food, my true hope with my site is to bring more of a sensory perspective to the dining experience. Let’s talk more about taste and less about décor and the presentation of food on the plate. That is how I became the blind food critic and how I began the Blind taste Test!
BR: What types of resources do you use in regards to being a food critic and why do you use them?
DA: As a food critic, I use several resources on a daily basis. As I am writing this, I realize that many of them are internet based since I love the convenience that technology offers. For example, menupages.com is a great site where I can research thousands of menus in the New York City area before I even set foot in a restaurant. (They also cover other cities so have a look for yourself.) Zagat’s is like the Bible of all restaurant guides, not that I totally agree with all of their ratings, but I am a frequent visitor to www.zagat.com to find out about each restaurant. Twitter is also a huge deal in my life, which I will address later.
BR: When it comes to dining out as a blind person, what are some of the misconceptions do you feel the sighted have about serving the blind patron and why do you think they feel this way?
DA: One problem I have is that there are simply not enough Braille menus available. Outside of national chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s and Outback Steakhouse, it is rare to even find one in New York City. I have always wondered if businesses don’t want to invest the small amount of money it takes to Braille their menu, or if they are not aware that a certain portion of their customers would benefit greatly from this service.
Therefore, when dining out, I feel a little hesitance from some waiters and waitresses about reading me the menu. It feels as if this type of person would rather not read the entire menu to me; instead ask what kind of food I like as if I already know exactly what’s contained on the menu.
Once in a while, I meet a person who will ask me how blind people eat out at restaurants, or if we enjoy ambiance, or some similar question which sounds silly to me. These misconceptions are easily explained, but here is the bottom line: restaurant owners need to know that people who are blind like to eat out, we make up a key percentage of your customers, so please be ready to make your business accessible!
BR: I know that you have a Master’s in Social Work. What are some of your thoughts in regards to exhibit events such as Dialog or Dinner in the Dark that are trying to educate the sighted about blindness?
DA: Don’t get me started! First of all, I want it on the record that I wholeheartedly commend these types of exhibits for their good intensions; I know in my heart that they are meant to open a dialog between people who are blind and those who are sighted. That being said, I have come to a conclusion based on personal experience and through people coming up to me on the street: this concept is not working. I actually attended Dialogue in the Dark and wrote an article about it for my site, so for more of my feedback please check that out:
Based on yelp ratings and people who I have spoken with, it seems as if dining in the Dark his also missed its mark. It is still my wish that exhibits like these are improved in the future; again, I am not against the concept just the execution.
BR: What is Project Starfish?
DA: Project Starfish America is a new platform with the end goal of increasing employment among people who are blind or disabled. I’m sure many of you know how high the rate of unemployment is for people who are blind; even though we have the capability to perform on an equal level as our sighted peers. Talented individuals who are blind or disabled (like myself) are given the chance to learn , be productive, make money , raise awareness and be employable. Participants work virtually from home via phone, internet, and Skype, and can be based anywhere in the United States.
When you join Project Starfish, you become a specialized management consultant. Based on the value of the services offered, the businesses that are assisted will pay a token of money directly to the consultant. The potential to earn money ranges from person to person but on average you can earn $800 to $1,000 without losing SSDI benefits. If you choose to stay with the platform for some time, it will provide you with all you need to become employable with other larger companies.
Consultants are pooled into what is known as a shared service: a number of skilled resources who can be shared among multiple businesses. Small businesses and startups are America’s biggest employer, and they either are not aware or can’t afford the right resources. Businesses work and collaborate with the talented blind via the Project Starfish platform and can get the work done at an affordable cost because the same resource can be used by multiple companies. This is exactly what small businesses need because cash flow is their biggest challenge. This combination creates a win-win camaraderie between the blind and disabled and businesses. Please contact me if you are interested in joining us either as a consultant or as a business!
BR: When it comes to teaching accessible technology to the blind, do you feel it is absolutely necessary to be “certified” or have an actual “degree”?
D A: I have never actually considered this question before. On one hand, I have met so many intelligent people without a certificate/degree who are more than qualified to teach such technology. Furthermore, there seems to be a shortage of teachers of accessible technology in general, so why not expand the playing field? However, my experience in the job market has shown me that employers want you to have that degree or certificate as a baseline requirement, so I’m not sure if this will be changing anytime soon.
BR: What are some of your favorite eating establishments that you have written about as the Blind Food Critic and why?
DA: There are so many wonderful restaurants in New York City, but please allow me to highlight just three:
1. Little Owl:
90 Bedford St. (at Grove St.)
This is a tiny new American restaurant In the West Village. One of their stand outs is a Bacon cheddar burger which is made entirely of the highest possible ingredients (short rib and brisket patty, house made maple cured bacon, aged cheddar cheese, homemade bun and twice cooked fries!). I have also discovered their incredible crispy chicken, first seasoned and then placed under a weighted brick, it is cooked to perfection.
2. Harlem Shake:
100 W. 124th St. (At Lennox Ave.)
This restaurant which has only been open for less than six months is amazing enough to immediately make my top ten list! Try the BBQ burger, or any of their Pat Lafrieda sourced creations. With fries better than Shake Shack and a great vibe, this place is a sure winner.
306 E. 81st Street (at Second Ave.)
This is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in New York City: hands down! They specialize in Roman cuisine with the best selection being Bucatini Amatriciana: a type of thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle with tomato sauce onion and pancetta. This dish is beyond words and despite their many outstanding daily specials and worthy entrées, I always come back for bucatini. It might be a bit on the pricy side, but the ambiance, personal service, and fresh made pastas are definitely worth it.
BR: Why do you feel it is important to use Twitter as part of your social networking platform?
DA: Twitter is important for so many reasons. It can help to promote your product, company, or site. I also enjoy twitter because I can easily connect to other professionals in my field. For instance, after posting what I consider to be a very good review, I will often tweet famous food critics in the hope of feedback or a retweet. Since joining in 2010, twitter has allowed me to meet and speak with likeminded people from across the world; sighted or blind, it truly brings people together. Yet, it feels like everyday someone else asks me to explain twitter to them. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me: www.twitter.com/blindblog
I want to extend a warm thank-you to Daniel Aronoff for allowing me the opportunity to interview him for #FF. At Fedora Outlier, LLC it is important to us to showcase individuals, brands and organizations that are making an impact within the blindness community. Daniel Aronoff does this by providing empowerment to other blind individuals who choose to dine out like everyone else!
Fedora Outlier, LLC provides the best, nationwide, assistive technology services and resources for the blind and deaf-blind community. As a blind entrepreneur, you might feel as though you lead a very ordinary life. The reality is that you are actually impacting the lives of others. At Fedora Outlier, it is important to us to share with others the importance of how the blind can make an impact on others. Tune in each week to the Delivering Access podcast to receive a bit of encouragement, inspiration and knowledge.