By Eric Magana
Imagine dining where there is no light and you can only hear or feel what’s around you.
In February, the Brazos Valley Center for Independent Living will host the 5th Annual Dining in the Dark event to raise awareness about low vision and blindness while promoting the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life. The dinner also serves as a reminder that individuals who have visual impairments are hard working members of society just like any other individual.
The event format includes dinner served in the dark by servers who are blind or have low vision. The meal is served and eaten in the dark, which presents both the servers and guests with a unique challenge. It also provides a journey for the other senses as the dinner is an opportunity for everyone, disabled or not, to come together and learn about one another without the ability to see their surroundings. During the event, no one will be seen; communication is accomplished through feeling, hearing, or speaking to one another. The multi-course menu (appetizer, main course, and dessert) will not be revealed to the guests until the end of the event.
The BVCIL first hosted this event in 2013 as a means of starting a major fundraiser. Shelby Catron, office assistant and volunteer coordinator of the BVCIL, says it was also a great way to get the community to start talking about blindness and the abilities of individuals with different levels of vision impairment. Since 2014, the event has been hosted at the College Station Hilton.
The dinner experience is provided by volunteers who have signed up and received training for their specific job assignments. Servers must be able to navigate in the dark and be willing to educate guests about their disability. Other volunteer opportunities include setup crew, raffle and silent auction, cart runners, seaters, and guest escorts.
While the people who participate in this event may have other disabilities, or in some cases none at all, all the servers who take part in the event are people who have some form of vision impairment. It’s a way to show that these individuals can still do things just like anyone else, Catron explains.
The event starts at 6pm and usually begins with a social hour. In addition to live music by Drew Womack, there is a silent auction, a chance to purchase raffle tickets for highly sought-after items, and a cash bar. There is also a sensory room hosted by Texas A&M Disability Services, which gives guests a chance to learn a place setting in the dark, learn how to identify money without vision, and other sensory tasks.
As the event continues, the guests will have an opportunity to utilize their other senses while getting to know their server. The servers are given the opportunity to tell their stories and talk with guests about how they navigate their daily life. Guests are given the opportunity to learn about disabilities and gain new perspective.
During an evening like no other, Catron says the guests are always surprised to learn of their server’s abilities while having a vision impairment or blindness. The praise the servers receive is always positive. “It provokes people to be excited and spread [awareness],” she says. The conversation continues as the dinner ends and the lights come on. The guests are then given time to ask more questions of the entire staff of servers about their experiences.
The event may be geared toward blindness awareness, but it is open to the public and anyone who wants to experience something different is invited to attend. Catron says to expect a full house. Buying tickets early is strongly recommended. The dinner is a great way of promoting the hardworking people of the Brazos Valley who may have disabilities and still get the job done, just like anyone else, Catron says, adding that the servers are appreciative because they get the opportunity to prove their abilities while educating others.
The dinner will take place on Feb. 18. For tickets, volunteer information, and more information about Dining in the Dark, visit www.DininginTheDarkBCS.org. All proceeds go towards the programs and services at the BVCIL and other future awareness events.