What is it like to walk through a busy city in total darkness? How do you eat a meal when you can’t see what’s on your plate? Most people don’t think about the difficulties blind and visually impaired people face every day but the Bible Society of Costa Rica is working to change this.
“There are 260,000 blind and visually impaired people here but most Costa Ricans are oblivious to the lives they lead or the obstacles they face,” notes Bible Society General Secretary Mayra Ugalde. “The Bible tells us to care for the vulnerable and that’s why we are working to serve blind people and their families and make the public aware of their situation.”
One activity the Bible Society recently organised was to take a group of 40 blindfolded students for a walk around the bustling capital city, guided by a blind person. Many passers-by stopped to watch and speculate about what was going on.
“The students walked in a line behind the guide, holding onto each other,” describes Ms. Ugalde. “They went very hesitantly at first, commenting that it felt scary, and wondering how blind people manage to walk over the uneven pavements. But the guide taught them how to pay attention to the sounds and air currents that could help them orient themselves as they walked along Central Avenue.
“At the end of the experience, the students told us that they had ‘seen’ and ‘felt’ the city in a new way. They also said that they’d begun to understand the reality of life for blind people.”
The ‘Dinner in the Dark’ event, which was hosted by the Bible Society, had a similar effect on the participants. Visually impaired and blind people served a meal to the guests in a totally blacked out room.
“We used black table cloths and serviettes. Everything was black!” notes Ms Ugalde. “We asked people to come to the event in dark clothes and to ensure their mobile phones were turned off. The waitresses led each person to their seats in total darkness and helped them use their hands to find where their plates and cutlery were. Then they served the meal.
“When the meal was over, we slowly turned the lights back on and the participants were shocked! The tables were a mess! Some people had found it so hard to find the food on their plates they’d used their hands and even their mouths! They all commented that they’d never thought about how hard it must be for blind people to dine out in restaurants.”
Some of the participants also said they’d learnt a valuable life lesson about themselves, too.
“I’ve realised that I don’t use all my senses as much as I should,” said Pastor José Garmendia. “I don’t taste, smell or listen fully because I put so much emphasis on what I can see. That’s a precious lesson I’ve learnt from this activity.”
“I was amazed at how my other senses were aroused by being forced to eat in the dark,” noted artist and architect Franchesco Bracci. “I was most struck by the smells, how many different aromas were dancing around the room. It’s amazing how humans are able to adapt in this way.”
The dinner was filmed and reported by Channel 7 – Costa Rica’s most popular TV station.