My Night at the Blind Cafe

19 Jul

by Tammy Curry

On Saturday, July 16, 2011, my partner and I attended the Boulder Blind Café, an event to “Dine & Experience a Concert in the Pitch Dark!”  I feel fortunate to be able to share my experience with Vision Through Words.  This is only an account of a sighted person’s 3 hours in darkness.  While I have a deeper appreciation, respect and understanding of those who are visually impaired, I am sure it only scratches the surface of the lives of those in the blind community.  I write this article respectfully and with gratitude to the Blind Café.

To begin with, it was quite impressive, not only how many people showed up to the event, but also how well it was organized.  Once it was time to enter, we lined up in designated groups, put our right hands on each other’s shoulders and followed our blind guide into his world.  Once through several layers of thick canvas hanging in front of the door, we took small steps together.  We walked and weaved in a room the size of a ballroom, listening to sounds of those around us.  When our guide brought us to a table, he found my hand and placed it on the chair, something I was grateful for.  Sitting down I tried to get acquainted with the surroundings and found the food already served.  I needed to be very gentle with my exploring as I did not know if I would knock something over, or even put my hand in someone else’s food. 

We didn’t know what we were eating so I tried to figure out what was on the plate though touch.  I felt salad – that was an easy one, but not easy to get onto my fork so I used my fingers to help guide the salad on the fork to my mouth.  I picked up what seemed like a cooked grape, but when I bit into it, it was a cherry tomato with its juice and seeds breaking open into my mouth as if it were the first time I ever ate a tomato.  Eventually, the chef came out and discussed what was served which included polenta, salad, quinoa, goat cheese balls, and fresh peaches whose fuzzy skin seemed to be that much fuzzier.

Dinner was followed by a Q & A session with the staff which was full of great questions, interesting stories and laughter.  In-house poet, Rick Hammond recited some beautiful poems in the darkness and silence of the room.  Shortly thereafter began the music of Rosh & One Eye-Glass Broken which felt extremely intimate and peaceful with nothing to distract the melody floating in the dark air.

At the end of the event, the group slowly brought light to the room by lighting candles.  I looked around and found that the “ballroom” we walked through was only a large room and the volume of the conversation came from only about 100 people, not hundreds as I had imagined. 

During the evening my emotional and physical sensations varied each moment.  Physically, it felt like I had my eyes closed yet could not open them.  My eyes strained trying to adjust and I had to close my eyes to allow them to rest.  I felt awkward in my movements so I kept a very small parameter, feeling a bit confined in my space.  Emotionally, I felt vulnerable and isolated during the meal, but felt relaxed and connected to my partner during the concert as I was only required to listen.  I found a need to reach out and touch my partner to feel his presence, love and security.  He was an anchor in the darkness. 

Three words I take with me from this experience are: Patience – with myself, with others, and with the situation around me; Trust – I had to trust others as it was crucial and I had to hope that everyone had the same intentions that I did; and Community – from the guidance to my chair, to the conversations at our table, I definitely felt that I lost my sighted independence and could not do this alone. 

Between the conversation, the meal and the music, the Blind Café taught me that you do not need to see in order to enjoy the beauty in the world.   

Tammy Curry is a graphic artist and a subscriber to Vision Through Words.

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6 Responses to “My Night at the Blind Cafe”

  1. Tina Loprado July 19, 2011 at 7:58 AM #

    Tammy,
    I enjoyed your review of Dining at Blind Cafe. It was very insightful and I’m glad you enjoyed the experience.
    I was certainly taken by the last sentence in your commentary that really sums it all up. You’re spot on with your observation. I’ve experienced blindness now for 12 years and I find this to be very true.
    Tina

  2. Kent July 19, 2011 at 10:50 AM #

    Thanks Tammi. I had a friend who went to Dining in the Dark. Several people came with their dog guides. As the meal progressed, one of the diners tapped my friend and whispered, “Feel.” As the friend reached over and felt, she realized that one of the dogs with his paws on the table was also Dining in the Dark.

  3. Nancy Scott July 19, 2011 at 11:08 AM #

    I like this Blind Cafe piece and, if it’s okay, I will use it in a discussion group I’m in, which will also let me advertise the blog. I will give attribution.

    Some questions for the author:
    Who is your partner–blind person? sighted person? someone you knew?
    Also, what made you decide to attend the event?

    • Tammy July 19, 2011 at 4:13 PM #

      Thank you all for enjoying the essay. It was a pleasure to write!

      To answer your questions Nancy, the partner I refer to is my husband, who is sighted. He helped me formulate my essay as his experience mirrored mine!

      There are a couple of reasons that made me decide to attend the event. First and foremost I have a relative who is legally blind. She has always walked through the world gracefully but Blind Cafe showed me how strong of a person she truly is.

      Another reason I decided to do the event is that I am currently building a website for a university’s disability services department. Through this experience I am learning the importance of Universal Accessibility. I try to place myself in different user’s situations to learn what is the best design for ALL individuals. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to not just imagine being blind but what it is like to truly function without vision.

      I highly recommend any type of event like the Blind Cafe to anyone who has relatives or friends who are visually impaired or blind.

    • Jeff Flodin July 19, 2011 at 5:11 PM #

      Many thanks, Tammy for sharing your sensitivity to the blindness experience. I will ask my family and friends, blind and sighted, to read and learn from you. First will be my wonderful and sighted wife, who tries so hard to understand what is, for both of us, a baffling and humbling experience.

  4. Marcus Gentles January 1, 2012 at 6:54 PM #

    Nice post which im finding interesting

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