I asked the executive director of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Gary Nenson, for his input on a story I had written about a blind person’s mobility. The protagonist in the story is blind folded while attempting to cross a six lane intersection using only the aid of the traffic lights and tactile paving stones, the yellow textured ground surface found on some intersections.
The executive director offered this cautionary note so that I would avoid offending individuals that are visually impaired. Talk to someone who is blind to fully understand the limited perspective a sighted person has believing they can fully comprehend what it’s like to be blind.
I was extremely excited a few weeks ago to receive an invitation from the executive director for a CNIB annual fund raising event. A dining experience to enlightened people with sight, by navigating a three course meal wearing a blind fold. The event was Dine in the Dark.
Emcee for the September 15 event at the Winnipeg Convention Centre was Lara Rae, artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. Her voice bellowed from the microphone to not eat the salad in front of us until instructions were provided. The command had come too late, as some of the more than 600 people had already finished.
As the evening formally started, Lara welcomed everyone and tried to recapture her audience’s attention by reminding them to focus on the intent of the evening: eating a meal without being able to see.
Greetings were offered by the event sponsor, Curtis Wyatt, President & CEO of Wyatt Downing Insurance Brokers. To capture the full experience Mr. Wyatt was lead to the stage blind folded. His monologue was completed blind folded while holding his written speech.
I especially welcomed Lara addressing her transgender life change. To express to strangers what she did to make herself feel complete took great courage. It allowed me to put away the mental gymnastics my mind was engaged in that was distracting me from listening to the host. She started the evening being a great comedian and made me feel comfortable to enjoy the evening.
Instruction for the experience was provided by Tracy Garbutt, CNIB Specialist, Independent Living Skills. With Lara and Tracy sitting at table on the stage, Tracy provided the navigation mapping of dinner table and how to move about the environment to eat a salad wearing a blind fold.
The meal then moved onto the main course which was hidden under metal warmers. We saw the salad before putting on our blind folds and eating. For this course, you didn’t get to see the plate of food. The blind fold was donned before removing the cover.
With instructions, we positioned the plate, located the meat entree and proceeded to cut and fork food into our mouths without the use of sight. To accompany the course of desert in our dark, we got to listen to the personal story of Scott Best, an individual supported by CNIB services since he was born.
The dinner table interactions were light and joking. Everyone was comfortable expressing the difficulties they were experiencing trying to eat. No wine was spilled, thanks to Tracy’s instruction but a dinner fork did fall into my spouse’s purse that was only retrieved with the aid of sight at the end of the meal.
A request for donations, followed by a live auction and 50/50 draw conducted by Auctioneer Adesa Auctions Greg Maidment and his daughter, rounded out the fund raising activities. The evening proceeded with a special performance by comedian Daryl Makk. Closing remarks before bringing the lights up were done by Lara Rae.
I struggle with the knowledge that sighted people comprehend the difficulties visually impaired people have from their point of reference. Seeing the salad before eating it was a lot easier than not seeing the entree and trying to eat. That sighted point of reference limits our ability to understand not seeing.
I found the experience profound. I wanted so badly to remove the blind fold so I could eat normally. Scott Best described his normal as including that he can’t see. Through the ongoing efforts of CNIB the normal of not seeing is being developed in individuals so they can champion life with confidence.