Learning About Blindness by Dining in the Dark

Imagine … eating your dinner without having a clue as to what it might be. You can smell it but can’t see it. The only thing to do is grab a fork and hope for the best.

That first bite can be a frightening proposition.

This is what I faced when attending my first Foundation Fighting Blindness “Dining in the Dark” fundraising event.

Impact has been working with the Foundation for more than seven years, and I was thrilled at the chance to learn more about this amazing client.  The experience I had at Dining in the Dark was nothing short of exceptional.

When the entrée portion of dinner was served the staff handed out blackout masks, and we truly were dining in complete darkness.

I expected to be most fearful of spilling my red wine on one of my new friends. But what actually struck me most during the dining in the dark experience was how not being able to see made me feel socially handicapped. I felt as though I was alone sitting in my own little dark bubble, even though I knew people surrounded me at my table. I could hear them around me but it seemed as though they were in another room; my hearing seemed to be muffled by my sight loss so that it felt as if I were under water.

At one point during the meal a companion leaned over and asked how my dinner was.  But was it me he was directing his question to?  I couldn’t tell because I couldn’t see where he was directing his voice! This sensation truly took me by surprise and made me realize how vision loss can create struggles beyond what we “seeing-people” can even imagine.

Imagine the fear of leaving the table and getting lost just exiting the room.  Or the awkwardness you feel imagining others might be looking at you as you push your food around (and off of) your plate as you are trying to get it on your fork.  Imagine the disappointment when your fork makes it to your mouth, only to realize there is no food on it.  Or not being able to identify who is talking to whom because you can’t see where their attention is focused.

Certainly the challenges and fears that accompany impaired vision go far beyond those I experienced over a thirty-minute entrée, but it was a very powerful experience.

As the author Daniel Pink has said, “Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes.” In this case, I gained empathy from “not” seeing through someone else’s eyes, and it profoundly changed my perception of what it must be like to be blind.

At Impact we know that the sharing of stories is one way to spark empathy. To hear or read another’s story is sometimes the closest we can ever come to really “standing in the their shoes.”  When we share stories we are able to feel and see what others might have experienced and felt.

To learn more about the Foundation Fighting Blindness and all that they do to find cures and treatments, please visit their YouTube page and watch the amazing story of Jack.

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