Beverly eighth-grader advocates for braille menus to help visually-impaired friend

BEVERLY, Mass. — Nikolas Hourican is visually impaired but navigates the halls of Beverly Middle School without a hitch.

The eighth-grader would like to be able to maintain that level of independence when he goes out to eat but is unable to read a traditional menu.

“Usually when I’m going to a restaurant, I’ll have one of my parents read it to me.”

Braille menus are usually the exception, not the rule, at most restaurants.

That will change if Nik’s classmate Lily McCarthy has her way.

“I’m like wow, this is a really big problem and I want to help out.”

For her Action Civics Project, McCarthy decided to create awareness about braille menus so more restaurants would offer them.

“I’m doing all the research about braille. Learning about it, how people use it and I am learning more about the menus, and about the prices, and how they do the printing,” explained McCarthy.

As part of her research, McCarthy discovered the National Braille Press, the oldest of its kind in the country, is located right here in Boston.

NBP President Brian MacDonald was happy to help McCarthy with her project.

“This is what we do all the time,” said MacDonald. “What we’re trying to do is a national awareness campaign so the general public will understand that braille is literacy and it is providing freedom.”

Right now, MacDonald is working with Starbucks. The coffee chain ordered 35,000 braille menus to have in all their stores in the United States and Canada by this summer.

Still, MacDonald thinks getting them in one restaurant at a time on the North Shore is also pretty important.

“This is available to all restaurants, not just the big ones,” added MacDonald. “Our goal is to get braille out there for everyone.”

McCarthy is now strategizing with her teacher about the best way to spread her message and to create change in the community.

Civics teacher Brian Bayer-Larsen says eighth-graders across the state do this same type of project.

“Not just to learn about things, but also to get involved with things. My hope is that this makes them more active and compassionate citizens in our society.”

This project is having a big impact on McCarthy.

“It changed me because I want other people to speak about their ideas on why or how we can make the community such a better place.”

That’s something she believes can be accomplished by the simple act of ordering a meal.

Hourican agrees.

“I think it would definitely help people to be more independent, instead of having to ask others and family members and staff for help.”

Printing braille runs three to four times the cost of traditional printing.

Still, MacDonald believes offering these menus makes good business sense when one considers the number of potential customers who are either blind or visually impaired.