Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Taste of Darkness: A Humbling Experience

After blogging about how much I’ve enjoyed recent photography exhibits, I had a couple of recent experiences bring home to me how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy visual art.

The first was a meal at Taste of Darkness, a very special restaurant at Inorbit Mall that is part of India’s first Dialogue in the Dark franchise.  Dialogue in the Dark is a social enterprise that seeks to broaden perspectives and build emotional intelligence while sensitizing visitors to the abilities of the blind.  At the Taste of Darkness, diners have to surrender anything that might provide illumination or enhance vision before entering the dining room.  This includes cell phones, watches, spectacles and lighters.  A blind employee then becomes their guide/waiter for the evening.  A four-course meal is served in a completely dark dining room.

I found the experience at Dining in the Dark humbling and enlightening.  Without any visual cues, I felt vulnerable, and I was very aware of how much I relied on my guide.  I learned that I rely on vision more than I realize when I eat.  Without it, I had difficulty identifying what I was eating, and I was not really sure how much I was eating.  I anticipated using other senses more when sight was taken away, but I was surprised that for me, my dining experience did not increase my attention to taste or smell, but instead made me pay more attention to touch.  I used my hands to explore my plate, and then paid close attention to the texture of my food on my tongue when I tried to figure out what I was eating.  I suspect this is because I was trying to visualize my meal, and touch, rather than taste or smell gives clues to appearance. 

The second experience was celebration of the 25th year of the LV Prasad Eye Institute.  LVPEI combines world class service standards with commitment to universal access to vision care.  I was extremely impressed to learn that over 50% of the Institute’s clients pay nothing for the services they receive, whether those amount simply to vision screening or to state-of-the-art surgical intervention.  LVPEI is also committed to rehabilitation for those with unavoidable vision loss.  The evening concluded with entertainment provided by visually challenged children who are part of LVPEI’s rehabilitation program. 

Both of these experiences reinforced my admiration and respect for the strength and adaptability of the visually challenged.  My guide at Taste of Darkness served my food and assisted me throughout the experience, a much more formidable challenge than just eating a meal as I did, but negotiating the completely blacked out dining room was undoubtedly a much simpler task than his daily routine of negotiating a blacked out world.  The young people at LVPEI were all successful students as well as musicians, and they radiated positive energy and enthusiasm.

If you’ve visited the U.S. you may have noticed some of the innovations that have been implemented to help the blind live independent lives without realizing what they were for.  Traffic lights have aural signals that coincide with their “Walk-Don’t Walk” visual messages.  Train platforms have bumps on the ground warning of proximity to the tracks.  And elevators routinely include Braille symbols for floors.  The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination against the disabled, and requires that all new facilities for public use comply with accessibility standards.  I hope I never have to take advantage of these provisions, but I’m glad they are there to enhance the lives of all those who need them.

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