New app lets restaurants better serve people with autism, Alzheimer's

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BOSTON - Going out to eat should be a time to relax and have fun with family and friends.  For someone with autism, dementia or PTSD, going to a restaurant can be a hit or miss proposition.

A local restaurant owner has come up with a way to improve those odds. Jennifer Apazidiz of The Red Raven in Acton has created a concept called “Purple Tables."  It’s a tribute to her mother who had early onset Alzheimer’s.      

It’s meant to help people like Michael Belleville of Bellingham. Diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, he was having an increasingly difficult time managing restaurants.

“Everything sounds like a pinball going off in my head.  It’s like nails on a scratchboard," he said. 

With Purple Table, a diner like Belleville can use an app to make a reservation and then the restaurant is instantly aware of that person’s needs.

“We have to have a discrete way for people to request additional accommodations without actually having to request additional accommodations," said Apazidis. 

Purple Table is best designed for those with Alzheimer’s, autism, hearing or vision loss or PTSD.  

“We are planning out those accommodations, a quieter table, better lighting,” said Apazidis.  “We are servicing the table with less noise, more patience, an understanding server who is kind of aware of different conditions.”

Social service advocates applaud the idea of Purple Table reservations.

“We are all familiar with physical ramps that help people who use wheelchairs be able to access public spaces.  There is this idea of cognitive ramps which are just simple tools which can just open up those spaces for people with thinking changes," said Beth Solzberg of Jewish Family and Children Services.

Maura Moxley of the Alzheimer’s Association added, “Our goal is to really make sure that people living in their communities can stay in their communities for as long as they can.”

Simple things like seating someone away from the bar, or from loud music, can reap big rewards.

Waiter Jonathan Goulas said the training was easy.  

“It makes me feel good that I am able to give someone an opportunity to go out and have a meal without feeling unsure or uneasy about the experience they are going to have," he said. 

Having those experiences isn’t just about quality of life, according to Belleville.  It’s about living life.

“It gives people like me an opportunity to feel like I am still part of a community.  We are losing a piece of ourselves every day as it is.  You know to have that taken away at the same time, makes the disease progress even faster.”

Purple Table went online in September and is currently available in four local restaurants.

The program can be good for business. Out of the first 60 Purple Table reservations made at The Red Raven, 50 were for new customers.
    

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