Recently I had the opportunity to experience Dine in the Dark or 'Dans Le Noir' with Orthoptics Australia. It was an unique, sensory and human experience. Dining in complete darkness with the help of blind or visually impaired guides who were our 'eyes' for the evening.
I think we can all agree that evenings like this can be challenging. Firstly, attending an association event where you don't know everyone. Research shows that people don’t mix well at networking events and they don’t feel good about trying. In fact, we prefer spending more time reconnecting with old friends than meeting new ones. Yet a significant body of research has shown that networking - that is making and strengthening connections with others is important for professional success. Providing social and networking events that are meaningful builds a sense of community that grows pride in it's profession.
Apart from the social challenges of the night, there is no doubt that being deprived of your sight adds a whole new dimension to dining. Just to find your glass, know if your plate was empty, or have any idea whether there was food all over you? Was the waiter behind you or how close was the person next to you?
Dans Le Noir is more than just eating in the dark and it's not just about socialising in darkness either. A Harvard psychologist says that when we meet people for the first time, many of them can size you up in seconds with first impressions. In fact, she says that people judge you based on two criteria when they meet you. That’s trust and respect. Can I trust this person or even can I respect this person? Making connections in complete darkness strips away all those first impressions. It changes things all together. It leaves just your voice. At Dans Le Noir, we sat with friends and colleagues but what if we had sat everyone randomly? So you had no idea who was next to you. No preconceptions, no judgements, no subconsciously putting people in a box. Would it have been easier making small talk in the dark? Do you think the communication might have been more authentic?
Could an evening like this change your perspective of what it might be like to be blind or visually impaired? Not just the obvious physical challenges but the social and emotional impact of vision loss. I encourage you next time when you ask your patients ‘how are you?’ Are you genuinely willing to listen and can you really give as much time as needed?
Atticus said so eloquently to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird ‘You never really understand someone until you consider things from their point of view..’ Despite that lesson early on, Scout didn’t get it until later in the novel when she actually stood on Boo’s porch. That was the moment when she understood what it was really like to step into someone else’s shoes.
I would like to thank Aurore and Edward for hosting Orthoptics Australia and for Dans Le Noir for giving us this unique experience. In particular, I would like to thank our guides for sharing their very personal stories about visual impairment and helping us to ‘see’ more clearly. A truly amazing experience! I know it changed my perspective, but what about you?
Read about Dans Le Noir at