Sighted students experience daily life with blindness at Dinner in the Dark

Lizzie Jespersen

Dinner became an obstacle course for UT students who attended Dinner in the Dark, an event for blindness awareness and a discussion between individuals with and without sight.

The dinner, hosted Tuesday by the disABILITY Advocacy Student Coalition in partnership with the UT Services for Students with Disabilities, allowed sighted students to experience dinner through the eyes of those living with blindness. Students formed a train as they entered the dark room, relying mainly on their senses of hearing and touch to seat themselves and find their meals.

In addition to enabling sighted students to empathize with their peers living without full vision, the dinner was a platform for discussion about questions or misunderstandings that sighted students had about interacting with people with disabilities.

Monica Villarreal, the coalition’s president, said she wanted the event to facilitate open conversation and awareness.

“The whole goal is to say that disability is not what defines a person,” Villarreal said. “Disability is just a characteristic. It’s just like having blonde hair or being tall, blue-eyed. I think a lot of people see a person with a disability … as it defines that person, and so we’re trying to fight that.”

Villarreal founded the coalition in 2011 when she could not find any organizations addressing student disabilities. Though the coalition originally focused on blindness, its mission evolved after she was approached with the possibility of collaboration with disabilities services.

Emily Shryock, disabilities services coordinator, said that the Dinner in the Dark provided an opportunity for sighted students to experience interacting with people without the judgments often made based on appearances.

“The organization put [Dinner in the Dark] together and we are very happy to support it, to provide others with an idea of what it is like to live with disabilities,” Shryock said. “We want to break down stereotypes and relate on individual levels instead of thinking of somebody on that disability level.”

Mathematics graduate student Urmi Nayak used to do blind readings for students with visual impairments and said that she attended the event because it offered an interesting and different experience.

“Being in the dark is something everyone is scared of,” Nayak said. “So am I. I just wanted to know what it felt like and what having no sight could be [like].”