UAB Connections' Dinner in the Dark provides understanding of vision impairment

Nearly 50 participants enjoyed dinner at Rojo Birmingham while blindfolded to gain an understanding of the daily challenges presented by vision impairment. 

dinner in the dark blindfolds 16Sandra Blackwood (left) and an ophthalmology resident were two of nearly 50 participants in the second annual Dinner in the Dark.A few hours without sight can provide a lifetime of insight. UAB Connections, a support group for those with vision impairments, hosted its second annual Dinner in the Dark on Monday, Oct. 3. The event provided an opportunity for friends, family and health care providers to experience a few hours without sight and gain some understanding of the daily challenges presented by vision impairment.

“Dinner in the Dark was designed to raise awareness about what it is like to live — just for a brief moment — with an eye condition that interrupts basic activities such as eating,” said Laura Dreer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology  at the University of Alabama at Birmingham  and the event organizer.

Nearly 50 participants enjoyed dinner at Rojo Birmingham while blindfolded. They were led to their table and told to imagine their place setting as a clock. Knife at 3 o’clock. Water glass just above it. Salsa at 11 o’clock. Their dinner choices were read to them by the volunteer wait staff at Rojo. 

For the diners, spatial relationships were confused. Most had no idea where they were in the restaurant, or even which direction they were facing. Many said good communication was a must. Nonverbal cues were lost, but conversation — and listening — improved. And no one wasted time looking at their smartphone. Most of all, diners realized that losing the sense of sight is profoundly challenging.

“You really have to concentrate,” said Sandra Blackwood, of the International Retinal Research Foundation. “I was almost afraid to move because I didn’t know where anything was.”

Blackwood empathized with people who suffer from vision loss by admitting she was frustrated by not being able to see for just a few hours, let alone for a lifetime.

“I have a totally different perspective after this,” she said. “I’ve definitely learned to be more patient tonight.”

Each table at Rojo held two or three blindfolded participants, including ophthalmology and optometry residents, technicians and physicians, along with a support group member with a real visual impairment. Volunteers stood by to assist but were told to let the participants learn for themselves.

“I thought the event was a great success yet again,” Dreer said. “Putting together an event that is educational, raises awareness and positively impacts people's understanding of vision impairment in a social and hands on atmosphere is just incredible. It's such a unique and informal teaching opportunity, over a meal, to bring together so many diverse people who would not otherwise have come together and have a dialogue that opens people's perspectives”

UAB Connections provides a combination of educational, social, and recreational/leisure activities for adults with various eye disorders, as well as their families and close friends. UAB Connections aims to help participants develop a peer support network to improve eye health and quality of life and maximize independence.

Dinner in the Dark is funded with the support of the International Retinal Research Foundation and the Vision Science Research Center.

For more information about UAB Connections, or to refer yourself or a patient, contact Molly Cox at 205-488-0778.