An eye-opening experience

COLUMBIA CITY — Dining by candlelight has always been associated with romance, or maybe a power outage, but eating a meal in the total darkness, as a totally blind person would, is a different experience entirely.And for a reporter, who relies on sight for taking notes, and for observing events, not to mention getting just the right picture, reporting with a blindfold on seemed a daunting task.The program, a benefit for the Lakota Chapter American Council of the Blind of Indiana and the Tri-Lakes Lions Club, occurred Sunday evening at the Eagle’s Nest Event Center. Designed to give the sighted a taste of what a blind person contends with in such a common everyday occurrence as eating a meal, the program seemed to allow much too much time for what was scheduled — a simple meal, a speaker and an award presentation. Seating alone was given one hour, which turned out to be completely necessary. Participants in groups of four listened to hints designed to aid us in our quest for sustenance without sight and we were then given bibs and blindfolds which were designed to allow no light in, while letting the eyes remain open.Small groups lined up with their blindfolds on and put a hand on the person’s shoulder ahead of them as a sighted person led the little parade to the table.The sighted guide placed our hand on the back of our chair and we found our seats. Then a careful examination of the table in front of us, with fingers curved and “low and slow” the mode, silverware was found and a napkin. As we waited for the rest to be seated, we struck up a conversation, learning names of the other “blind” people at the table. As others were seated at our table, we learned names. Some talked freely and others, a bit unnerved by the experience were quieter. As the salad was brought — we were given 45 minutes for this course — we fumbled for our forks and began stabbing at the food. From comments heard, some of the forks lifted were more often empty, until we decided it was OK to use fingers. One commented he discovered he had been eating pieces of his styrofoam bowl. Dinner came with another 45-minute allotment and we were told by the hands of a clock where each item was placed, meat at 12 o’clock, and side dishes at 4 and 8 o’clock. That was all we were told. Those at our table were able to identify the green beans and potatoes, but the meat was questionable. Was it chicken or pork? And how does one cut the meat to get a suitable size bite? As we were finishing up, Pastor Jim Clifford from Laud Christian Church gave a humorous introduction for guest speaker Linda Scribner, who was raised by two sighted parents with her two blind siblings. Her attitude was one of humor and it was evident in her voice that she was completely comfortable with her blindness as she related some of the mishaps she had endured throughout her life. She joked that she was the most experienced blind diner at her table. Dessert was given only 30 minutes, and by now we were getting the hang of it. Use of fingers was immediate and with more confidence as we dug into cheesecake, though some might have been eating key lime pie. After dessert, the unmasking. As the blindfolds came off, everyone looked around to see what faces belonged to the voices. Many were surprised to see the age of the person they had been talking to. At this point, we were able to see Pastor Clifford and Scribner as he presented her with the Patricia Fager Inspirational Service award given for her service to the blind people of our area. Fager was a former resident of Columbia City who was born blind, but lived independently for much of her life. She also played the organ for a local church and a highlight of her life was playing the Embassy Theater pipe organ in Fort Wayne.Clifford told of Scribner’s willingness to stick to whatever job needs done. He called her a person of ability with a loving personality. For those who hadn’t known before, it was revealed that the pastor himself is legally blind. The program, possibly to become an annual event, was aided by the volunteer efforts of the Lakota Chapter ACBI, the Tri-Lakes Lions Club and Girl Scout Troop 00068 Northern Indiana Michiana in Columbia City. An organizer estimated about 50 attended Sunday night.For more information about the Lakota Chapter American Council of the Blind of Indiana, contact Sue L’Esperance, project coordinator at 248-9692.