by Valerie Chee (15S07B), Michelle Zhu (15A01B), Celine Liu (15A01E)
Have you ever marvelled at how the occasional blind man or woman moved expertly through the motions of daily life with seeming ease? In all honesty, the problems faced by the visually handicapped are not usually on our minds on a regular basis. For the vast majority of us, it is a little hard to empathize with them when we are so used to taking the privilege of sight for granted, but we must remember that there exist members of our society who are consumed by a world of darkness- with difficulties and pains we may never experience.
In response to the common negligence of the visually handicapped community, Dine in the Dark 2014 sought to lend to the public a firsthand perspective on being blind, albeit for a small window of time, by challenging participants to consume an entire meal immersed in utter darkness. As a member of the organizing team stated, the event was ‘to raise awareness for the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), because the visually handicapped is a part of society that is often neglected.’ And what better way is there to empathise with the blind than to immerse yourself in their world entirely?
Regrettably, the experiences had at lunch and dinner were inconsistent because of the windows that could not be covered up in the Evelyn Norris Hall– during lunch hours, sunlight leaked in through glass panels near the ceiling, making the dim lighting more of a strain on the eyes than an obstacle to vision. The organizing team later explained that it was quite a challenge to prepare the place because they could only look at the venue in morning, and had no time to patch it up in advance. Dinner on the other hand was touted by participants as a sui generis experience of eating in the darkness.
After the screening of a video that introduced us to the difficulties faced by the blind, the event began in earnest with a game that involved drawing a face and a house in the darkness. Being unaccustomed to the lack of vision, even the simplest things were a challenge. Passing pencils and paper around the table resulted in more fumbling than one would expect, and the cacophony of voices without the presence of visual cues was bewildering as we struggled to pick out the voice of our facilitator. Eventually, someone discovered that the key to this activity was not lifting the pencil from the paper, but not before the rest of us floundered our way through drawing disproportionate faces and misshapen houses. When our ‘masterpieces’ were returned to us at the end of the event, it was evident that any semblance of aesthetic ability we may possess had been severely hindered by the experience of visual impairment. In one sense, this became a source of hilarity, but from a more subdued perspective, the activity allowed us to acknowledge that the disability to perform even simple, everyday tasks is just one of the major difficulties faced by the visually handicapped.
And with that, appetizer was served– potato salad that came in a handy little box. The servers delivered the food to participants using a simple system of tapping the shoulder of one individual at the table, and then requesting participants to pass on the dishes till everybody had their food. Later, we found that the servers were able to find their ways to each table by the use of strings suspended slightly above head level in a grid over the hall. Tags were strategically attached on the parts of the strings next to each table so that servers used their sense of touch to determine when they had reached their assigned tables.
For the participants, eating posed little significant challenge on its own, but as we quickly got accustomed to the feeling of only tasting- and not seeing- our food, the emcees introduced the bands who would be providing the background music for the meal. Much of the following two hours was filled with seamless transitions from ballad pieces to upbeat tracks, as members from Raffles Rock and various bands set the atmosphere for a relaxing and enjoyable dining experience, removing the tension from having to function in complete darkness. At the very least, it was a unique and novel experience of ‘watching’ live performances without actually seeing the performers. The rest of the meal went smoothly, as we were served with a main course of tomato-based pasta, followed by chocolate mousse dessert.
Needless to say, taking notes in the dark was no easy task. Besides having to come up with innovative ways of making sure my lines didn’t overlap, I caught the darkness lulling me in, making me forget what I’d committed to paper. By this point, we’d grown accustomed to the dark, many of us choosing simply to close our eyes in favour of the constant straining. The second game was a fairly easy one, with a variety of objects such as lemons and coins being passed around, teaching us to make use of our other senses instead of relying on sight alone.
Having been in darkness for nearly two hours, there was a collective gasp as the lights came back on, the return to normalcy stinging painfully. Gradually, laughter and voices filled the hall as we reoriented ourselves to the light. For most participants, the event was a worthwhile one, with everyone interviewed saying that they would come for Dine in the Dark again. According to one participant, eating in the dark was “strange but fun”, although “not so much if you do that every day– [it] makes everything a lot messier and harder”. At the end of the day, while most participants enjoyed the unique experience that is Dine in the Dark, the takeaway from was certainly far more meaningful than just another night out with friends. As organizing team member Hannah Goh said, “We just hope that they are able to empathize more with the visually handicapped that they see around them, and be able to provide more help and support for these people.”