Playing in the Dark, Not Like Being Blind

By Mary Ellen Gabias

Reprinted with permission of The Daily Courier, Kelowna, June 2, 2013.

From the editor:
Mary Ellen wrote this excellent letter in response to CNIB’s Dining in the Dark fundraiser, which was held in her city of Kelowna, B.C.

The entrepreneurs responsible for Dining in The Dark are selling their expensive experience as a unique and fun way for customers to appreciate food more deeply.

I don’t understand why eating dinner with the lights out has any bearing on the taste of the food or the liveliness of the table conversation.

Nevertheless, if people think they’re having gustatorial enrichment, more power to them.

If they think putting themselves in a circumstance where they function with less confidence and competence than normal teaches them something about blindness, they’re mistaken.

That mistaken notion has negative consequences for those of us who are blind and are doing all we can to demonstrate that blindness is a less common, but nevertheless normal, way to live fully.

My problems as a blind person have very little to do with the fact that I can’t see.

They have a great deal to do with people around me who frequently have very low expectations concerning my capacity to do everyday things like crossing streets, climbing stairs, carrying trays in food courts and a hundred other things.

People have a hard time understanding how I function because they are terrified when they imagine themselves suddenly unable to see. I understand sighted people are curious and genuinely want a way to understand my life.

The single worst way to understand blindness is to simulate it. Sighted people who simulate blindness for a few hours, or even a few days, come away from the experience understanding what it’s like to be a sighted person put at a terrible disadvantage.

They learn very little about how blind people gain ease and confidence using alternative techniques.

To learn the true nature of blindness would require much more time and intensive skills education and discussions.

Thinking that an evening dining in the dark gives you a window on blindness is akin to believing a day spent playing cowboys and Indians creates understanding of aboriginal culture. In both cases, the experience may be
fun, but using that experience to draw conclusions about a minority community is bogus.

If you want to attend Dining in The Dark because it’s a novel experience, go for it. Please remember, though, you’re a sighted person in the dark who is learning exactly nothing about being blind.

CNIB is using this event to raise money, thereby reinforcing stereotypes blind people are working hard to eradicate.

How shameful that CNIB is helping its finances by undermining its clients’ aspirations.

Reproduced from