Blind For A Night

Area residents who are curious about what it would be like to spend an evening out to dinner while blind will have the opportunity to give it a try in March.

Chautauqua Blind Association’s Dining in the Dark dinner promotes awareness of challenges visually impaired members of the community face.

CBA Vision Rehabilitation Services announced the celebration of the third annual event, scheduled to take place Thursday, March 21, at the Chautauqua Suites in Mayville. The evening will begin with cocktails and a silent auction at 6 p.m., followed by seating guests at 6:45 and dinner will be served at 7.

According to Lisa Goodell, executive director for CBA, the event has been held for the past two years to promote community helping, caring and acceptance of people with disabilities. Last year 119 people attended the dinner.

“It is a fundraiser, but it has really turned into an awareness-raiser because it makes you realize what people with vision problems go through,” said Goodell. “We don’t turn the lights off for the dinner. Instead we wear blindfolds and work with the staff of Chautauqua Suites. We give you a choice of being led in blindfolded so you don’t see the dining room at all, or you can walk in sighted and put your blindfold on when you get to the table. The whole thing is to experience what it is to lose your vision.”

Louise Tefft, of Jamestown, a 97-year-old client of CBA, attended the dinner last year and enjoyed it immensely, she said.

“It was lots of fun,” said Tefft. “You’re sitting and talking to somebody who you do not know and cannot see – and that’s fun. The soup is in a mug and it’s hot, but that’s easy; the real challenge is the lettuce. The next challenge is to cut what you’re eating because sometimes you can get too large of a piece in your mouth.”

Tefft is a client of Debbie Liddell, who serves as a vision rehab teacher for CBA. Liddell added that sometimes people would actually bring a utensil to their mouths thinking that they had something and when they bit down they would find it empty. Goodell then pointed out that some people get so frustrated that they decide to forfeit the utensils, and just use their hands to eat.

“The thing with visual impairment is that it’s not a handicap that you can really know by just looking at someone,” said Liddell. “So, for many clients it is intimidating to go out and eat in public. And, we just want the public to be aware. It is also good for families who have a member who is struggling and even though you see them often, you don’t really understand it because you don’t take the time to do this.”

Goodell also pointed out that the dinner is a good learning opportunity for anyone who works in any capacity with the visually impaired. She hopes to see doctors, nurses, staff from senior care programs, restaurant owners or anyone else who is likely to come across someone with vision problems. That’s why last year Goodell invited Nicholas Hslika, a visually impaired 10th-grade student of Sherman Central School, to attend the event with several of his friends.

According to Patricia Martin, Hslika’s Spanish teacher, around eight students and several teachers attended Dining in the Dark to support Hslika and learn about what he goes through every day of his life. The students came back to school and couldn’t stop talking about the program for a week, she said. As a result even more students and teachers want to go this year.

“We made Nick wear a blindfold too so that he didn’t have an unfair advantage,” said Martin. “There is a guide at the table who tells you what they are serving you and where things are in relation to a clock. So for example, your glass of water is at 2 o’clock. But, Nick could tell us where everything was. We laughed an awful lot that night. Because the program is all about awareness, I have to say that the program does open your eyes to how things are for the blind.”

Another way that CBA raises awareness is by forming partnerships with area colleges. New this year is a partnership that has been formed with SUNY Fredonia. And, two years ago when the program began, CBA teamed up with Jamestown Community College’s Sarah Tranum, occupational therapy associate professor and academic fieldwork coordinator, to teach her students sighted guide techniques. Her students will attend the dinner for the experience of providing support to those who cannot see.

“I felt it would be a great experience for the students because not only is it promoting to the students to give back to the community, but it also gives them the opportunity to learn about interacting with and leading people with visual impairment,” said Tranum. “About 50 percent of my students attend the dinner and have the opportunity to practice communication skills. They lead folks to a table and sit there with them to explain to them what they are eating, where the silverware is placed and direct them in a way that they can understand even though they can’t see. Our students leave the dinner so excited that they got to experience it and can’t wait to help again next year. They are also putting together a basket for the silent auction.”

All proceeds from the event stay local and serve to help CBA provide rehabilitation services to more than 800 community members and 1,800 children. In its second year, the event raised about $2,000 through a silent auction. The items auctioned will be a combination of gift baskets, things donated from local businesses and works by CBA’s clients. Local businesses are invited to become sponsors of the event or to donate a gift basket to be auctioned. In addition to helping CBA provide services, sponsorship also includes reservations to the dinner and are due by March 7.

“Because all of our services are free to the legally blind, fundraisers such as this are what keeps us doing what we do,” said Goodell.

The dinner will be catered by Olive’s, which is Chautauqua Suites’ in-house restaurant. There will be three options to choose from for the entree: beef, chicken or vegetarian. Admission to the event is $55 for an individual or $100 for a couple. People of all ages are welcome. Chautauqua Suites is located at 215 W. Lake Road in Mayville.

Chautauqua Blind Association serves the legally blind and visually impaired in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. For more information, call 664-6660 or visit chautauquablind.org.