Dinner in the Dark shows students what it’s like to live with visual disability

Brittany Wagner

Students stumbled their way through a pitch black room, feeling their way along the backs of chairs to find a seat at the crowded dinner table. For just under two hours Thursday night, these students got a taste of what it’s like to be blind.

The disABILITY Advocacy Student Coalition hosted its biannual Dinner in the Dark in the Student Services Building. About 70 students shared a meal and listened to personal stories from four people living with visual disabilities — in complete darkness.

Ce’Nandra Franklin, communication sciences disorders audiology senior, is the social and recruitment chair of the Coalition, the student organization affiliated with UT Services for Students with Disabilities. Franklin said the goal of the organization is to make UT students more aware of disability and advocate for others.

“We focus on the large letter ‘A’ in ability,” Franklin said. “It’s our focus on what is the human spectrum of what people are able to do, and how can we not only learn from that, but also how can we let other people know about our own experiences.” 

While attendees clumsily ate a spaghetti dinner using only their senses of smell and taste to identify it, the floor was opened for a Q&A session with the four guest speakers, who traveled from McAllen to educate the group. 

Salvador Villa is a McAllen high school senior and has been blind since birth. Villa spoke about playing the snare drum in band, watching his favorite action films and planning to study law at UT.

Villa said he enjoys answering questions about his disability because he doesn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about blind people.

“If all the blind people try our best to have everybody on the same page with the same perspective, it’s gonna help us because they’re gonna know how to interact with us,” Villa said. “They’re not gonna have the ideas they had before. They’re gonna see us the way we want to be seen as independent people.”

Public health senior Mimi Lam said she found it valuable to put names to faces in the blind community and hear about the obstacles they overcome every day. 

“I just feel like my eyes are open,” Lam said. “Now when I walk into a building, I’m going to think about, ‘Do I see braille? Is it accessible to my friends?’ I feel empowered too.”