BEVERLY — As a peer leader at Beverly Middle School, Lily McCarthy was talking with her group about day-to-day activities that an able-bodied person like herself might not recognize as a challenge to other people.
When someone mentioned the difficulty of reading restaurant menus for blind and visually impaired people, McCarthy said, "I thought of Nik."
Nik is Nikolas Hourican, a fellow eighth-grader who is legally blind. McCarthy's concern for her friend turned into a school project that has attracted the attention of the National Braille Press.
The Boston-based nonprofit is promoting McCarthy's project as a way to advocate for Braille menus in restaurants. Its president, Brian Mac Donald, recently met with McCarthy and her civics teacher at Beverly Middle School to discuss the subject.
"She mentioned Nik and talked about the project and I said, 'We can help you with that,'" said Mac Donald, who lives in Danvers. "I was just really impressed with how thoughtful she was."
McCarthy, 14, has researched the technology and costs of creating Braille menus and is planning to write letters to restaurants in Beverly explaining how they would help people with vision problems. Braille menus are three to four times more expensive to print, but McCarthy said the payoff would be worth it.
"It does cost a little bit more but I feel like it would definitely help with the community making sure everybody felt included," she said.
The National Braille Press has produced Braille menus for companies like Starbucks and Wendy's and local restaurants like Legal Seafoods and Life Alive. But Mac Donald said they are not available in most restaurants.
"Some of the small restaurants who may think of doing it are normally prompted by a blind person asking for it," Mac Donald said. "We want Braille to be out there for all blind people for information. That's part of our mission as a nonprofit."
The National Braille Press is the premier Braille publisher in the United States, according to its website. The company prints everything from Braille textbooks for kindergarten through Harvard Law School to standardized college entrance exams to maps for national parks.
"We pretty much do everything," Mac Donald said.
McCarthy's project at Beverly Middle School stems from a 2018 state law requiring eighth-grade students to complete a non-partisan civics project. Social studies teacher Brian Bayer-Larson said the projects are "action" projects that require students to reach out and make connections in the community.
"The idea is for kids to be empowered," he said. "To help them learn with hands-on work and research what it means to be an active and compassionate involved citizen in our society."
Another project in Bayer-Larson's class involves students conducting a fundraising drive for the Gloucester Marine Station. If they raise enough money, they can adopt a seal for Beverly Middle School.
"There are so many ideas. That's the beauty of it," Bayer-Larson said. "They've all been encouraged to reach into their own passions and own interests."
Hourican, 13, is doing a civics project based on his own experience. On Jan. 7, he underwent a successful kidney transplant. He said his project involves helping patients stay connected to other people during long hospital stays.
Hourican, who has been learning Braille since he was 3 years old, said he has been to only one restaurant that has Braille menus, the 99 Restaurant in Salem. He said he appreciates the thoughtfulness behind McCarthy's project and hopes it influences other local restaurants to offer them.
"I really like how she's trying to help people be more independent," Hourican said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.