Feigning Blindness

blackLet me begin by saying that being blind is no joke. For an evening, I feigned blindness for the sake of learning.  As I was thinking of catchy blog titles and things to say, all of the “eye opening” references came to mind. But after the experience, I realized quickly that those silly little comments are not as funny as I originally thought. Imagine only seeing darkness, not being able to see the sun, or your child’s face when they are born. Think about how it would be not to see the food that you are eating.

The Louisiana Association for the Blind (LAB) presented “Dining in the Dark” at Superior Steakhouse in Shreveport, Louisiana on February 27, 2016. The fundraising event was meant to benefit the residents of Northwest Louisiana who live with severe vision impairment. LAB was established in 1927 and provides jobs, as well as training and services for people of all ages with low vision blindness. They employ people with vision impairment through four different divisions: LAB IndustriesAbility PrintingAbilityOne Base Supply Centers, and the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center.  The dining experience was also a way to raise awareness and understanding of what it is like to dine without vision. While dining is not the only challenge that people with blindness have to overcome, it is an opportunity to share a small sampling of the skill learning that LAB offers.

On a side note, I’ve worn glasses since the fifth grade. Well . . . “worn” may be stretching it. I’ve been “prescribed” glasses since the fifth grade. Because of my vanity I didn’t wear them with consistently, and then I started to drive. I realized that I must do something, so I got contacts until 2009 when I had PRK surgery to correct my distance vision. As a kid, I’m not sure why, but I would challenge myself by walking around my house with my eyes closed so that I would be able to find my way around if I ever became blind. I also would close my eyes in restaurants thinking that I could sharpen my hearing. I’ve always thought that I would be able to manage if ever became blind. This event proved me to be full of nonsense.

IMG_7014As my boyfriend Ed, and I approached the table, we immediately saw aprons and eye masks at each place setting. Not just any eye masks, but really swanky, light blocking masks with room for your eyes to blinks. I assumed that was so you would have the ability to keep your eyes open during the experience, while maintaining visual impairment. In the printed program, we found “tips and tricks” for successful dining. We’d need to rely on our other senses and abilities, introduce our table mates, imagine a typical place setting, keep contact with the table, and tips for using utensils and drink ware.  What you need to know about me is that I go all in when I participate in events. Once my mask went on, there would be no peeking, so I ran through the tips and got ready to start eating blindly.

Several times during the meal, I was aware that some people at my table had lifted their masks for a peek here and there. I totally get that this was a fun experiment and that not everyone would take it as a serious learning lesson like I had. In fact, at one point I was told that many of the people in the room had already taken off their masks to eat. I realized that I had to keep my mask on. People with low vision don’t get to turn their vision on and off. For just a few hours, I wanted to be immersed in what it felt like and as I sat at the table blindfolded, here are only a few of the things that I felt and thought:

  • Body Language: Body language cues aren’t there to pick up on how verbal expressions land. This alone can make everything more difficult. “Did I say something inappropriate?” “Is that why everyone stopped talking?”
  • I felt isolated: Again, with no visual clues as to when it’s appropriate to speak, I found myself listening and being less engaged in the conversation.
  • Time moves slower: Waiting on the wait staff to deliver food seemed to take an enormously long time. Engaging with dining partners to fill the time is a bit of a challenge when sight is not involved. 
  • Trust issues: I can imagine trust issues must be magnified when visually impaired. I trusted the wait staff when they said my wine was at my 1:00 and my plate was set up with certain foods at the 6:00 position. 
  • Spatial Relations: Navigating spatial relation is tough. I bumped into my waiter twice when he was setting food in front of me. It made me more conscious that I, as a sighted person, want to be more respectful of a visually impaired person’s personal space.
  • IMG_7019-1Self-consciousness, vanity and confidenceMy normal self-consciousness would be challenged if I ever became blind. I noticed as I was sitting at the table I didn’t have much control over what my hair looked like or if my décolletage was exposed. I dropped my salad fork before I ever started eating, and my confidence was not very high that I would be successful in feeding myself.
  • Relationships: Being in a relationship with someone would be based on less superficial exchanges. I heard Edward in a very new and different way. His voice inflections and pauses became more important without seeing his facial expressions. I wondered how I would have even met him if I had not first seen him and then to know what he looked like. I tried the cliché Helen Keller movie version of touching his face and I realized that being able to see a person is way different than relying on the shapes on their face. At one point, Ed and I exchanged a kiss, which was a bit difficult, but also way more hands on, so maybe that was ok.
  • Hearing differently: I was more aware of slight accents, voice changes, and pauses in conversations. As we were dining, I noticed one of the other attendees at our table had an accent that I hadn’t noticed prior to blindfolding. It was helpful in beginning a conversation with him about where he was born.
  • People are really loud: Several voices in the room seemed to be on speaker volume. It made me think that I want to be more aware when I speak in public. It also made me realize that all my practice as a kid did no good for me. All of the sounds in the room were intensified and I had a hard time just being able to hear the people at my table.
  • Smelling: I could smell and identify the food before it arrived. That was almost a comfort. I couldn’t see what I was eating, but I trusted my waiter to tell me what was on my plate. My sense of smell helped me trust what he said. 
  • Eating: I found out, and was proud of the fact, that I was pretty darn good with a fork and knife. I decided that I would still need to go to Weight Watchers if I ever became blind, but how would that work? Many of our eating habits are based on seeing our food. I cleared my plate, but to be sure, I asked my server and she confirmed that I did.
  • Impairment: Drinking while visually impaired is a double whammy. By the time my 3rd course arrived, I had two glasses of champagne and almost 3 glasses of wine. The combination of being visually impaired and intoxicated was quite problematic.
  • Social Media: Anyone who knows me knows that I have a slight social media addiction. I like snapping photos, posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not once during my meal did I pick up my phone. I knew if I did that I would be inclined to peek through my mask and I wanted to get the full experience of what it would be like if I were blind. It also reminded me that the visually impaired have to rely on experiential memories rather than visual memories. 
  • Visual impairment is not the worst thing: The thought that kept occurring to me was that people with visual impairments have to learn to adjust and do more during just one meal than I have to do all day long. 

The “Dining in the Dark” experience was enjoyable, made me appreciative that I have sight, and more aware of the challenges that the visually impaired face each day. I am so glad to have been exposed to LAB and the services that they offer to those who have become blind or of low vision. They are providing opportunity and support to those in our communities who without it may be left in a situation of despair. I’d encourage you to take care of your eyes, and remember the Louisiana Association for the Blind in the event that you or someone you know ever needs their services.

To learn more about The Louisiana Association for the Blind:

That Just Happened!!
Robin Williams
Marketing Maven, Holiday Lanes

IMG_7012

 

 

There is Hope in Collaboration

IMG_1161It is so easy to get caught up in our worries and feel like nothing is good in life. I’ve been feeling a bit down lately and it can be consuming. Today I was reminded that while my worries may be valid, there is always someone out there who has things a little (and a lot) worse. My friend, Candace invited me to tour HOPE for the Homeless, a.k.a. HOPE Connections Drop-In-Center, which is a collaboration of organizations and individuals dedicated to ending homelessness in Northwest Louisiana. Candace is a member of the board for the Volunteers of America North Louisiana (VOA) and she wanted to share how they are partnering with other agencies to provide hope in our community.

The Vision of HOPE for the Homeless is that no individual or family has to experience homelessness in Northwest Louisiana.

IMG_1155I really had no idea what to expect. What I found was so touching. The Drop-In-Center is truly a place of collaboration from over 60 agencies that work together to provide a safe resting place and resource center for the homeless.

IMG_1154IMG_1158IMG_1162What I understand about the challenges of being homeless and trying to obtain help is that navigating the system can be daunting, partly due to the travel distance between agencies. This Center provides shower facilities, laundry facilities, telephones, computers, mail receipt, medical services, and job opportunities. It is run by certified Peer Support Specialists that steer clients towards services that will help them obtain and maintain permanent housing.

IMG_1166What touched me most was hearing from Tony. Tony is a homeless veteran who landed in Shreveport after some set-backs in life. Tony, was resistant to accepting help because he has a dog, Obi Wan Kenobi (a three-legged sweetie). Tony had been offered help from other agencies, but with stipulations that he had to get rid of Obi. This was not an idea open for discussion with Tony. As an animal lover, I understand not wanting to give up the companionship. When the case worker from HOPE for the Homeless assured Tony that they would find a way to help them both and then followed through on that assurance, a trust relationship was formed. Because of the collaborations of several agencies, hope was given to Tony in a way that has allowed for a transition into a safer living situation. It has also given Tony a way to contribute back to the community.

HOPE Connections is located at 2350 Levy Street in Shreveport, LA. I hope you will consider taking a tour of this facility, or one of other VOA tours available. The collaborative efforts being made in our community are outstanding. Upcoming tours dates are as follows:

  • Sept 2, 2015 – 11 am – Ballington Center at South Pointe Place – 1133 South Pointe Parkway, Shreveport
  • Sept 2, 2015 – 4 pm – Highland Center – 520 Olive Street, Shreveport
  • Oct 7, 2015 – 11 am – Lighthouse Bossier – 2101 Scott St, Bossier City
  • Nov 4, 2015 – 11 am – Veterans Facility – 453 Jordan St., Shreveport
  • Dec 2, 2015 – 11 am – Lighthouse – 802 Travis St, Shreveport

Want more information about Hope for the Homeless or VOA?

IMG_1156

IMG_1159

IMG_1149

IMG_1160

IMG_1164IMG_1166

There is hope in collaboration! I’m proud to live in an area where there are people that are working to improve the lives of everyone in the community.

That Just Happened!!
Robin Williams
Marketing Maven, Holiday Lanes

* Source: http://nwlahope.org/ and site visit

I’m changing the title of this blog

Travel South USA Opening Reception with Meg Davenport and Jada Durden

Travel South USA Opening Reception with Meg Davenport and Jada Durden

Do you ever start something and never finish it? That’s how I feel about my blogs. I have been neglecting both lately. I’ve realized that the neglect of this blog is because I do so much more than just volunteer with the awesome Bossier Chamber of Commerce and the title was pigeon-holing me. I’ve decided to change the name of my blog from “My Time as a Bossier Chamber Diplomat” to “That Just Happened“. I’m hoping this will allow me to share more about all of the activities for which I participate. This blog will now celebrate and promote good stuff going on in the Northwest Louisiana community while I represent as Holiday Lanes‘ Marketing Maven.

If you subscribe to my blog, please be patient with me. I am going to try to back-post several events that I want included on my blog and that means you may get more emails than normal.

Sharing the Holiday Lanes message with the Bossier Chamber Board of Directors

Sharing the Holiday Lanes message with the Bossier Chamber Board of Directors

Working for Holiday Lanes is such a fun job. Melanie Coleman (managing member/proprietor) understands the importance of being in and supporting the community. She told me just today, “we are about to have the funnest year EVER”. This is exciting to me because as a “creative” it isn’t always easy to conform to a normal 9-5 position. Thank goodness she gives me lots of opportunities to work around that.

Showing my two posters displayed at the

Showing my two posters displayed at the “See America” Exhibit at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, LA

The reason that I feel the need to share a blog about events going on in our area is because I have this really goofy pet peeve. When I hear someone say (in a whiny voice) “There’s nothing to do around here”, I want to prove them wrong! So with that, I’m going to share, share, share.

I hope to see you around NW Louisiana,

Robin Williams,
Marketing Maven at Holiday Lanes