To appreciate food involves examining its presentation, aroma and taste. Remove the first sense and you are left trying to discern with smell and taste. This is the experience of most visually impaired people, and the key goal behind the concept: Dining in the Dark.
With the original idea for this project from the Blindekuh (Blind Cow) restaurant in Switzerland, the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) established Dining in the Dark in 2002 as a means to raise awareness about the challenges that persons with vision impairment face in their daily activities. “A sighted person can also get to experience what it is like to be blind without the use of blindfolds” , notes on its website.
At the SAVH centre is a small dining section which includes a kitchen/preparation area, and two dining rooms – one seating up to 8 people, and the other slightly larger, catering for up to 12.
A glimpse of the Dining in the Dark building, also housing some office space:
The experience begins as you enter. The maitre d’ tells you to put your belongings (handbag, phones, umbrellas) into the foyer lockers so that other patrons and the server does not trip on items left on the floor. Then the visually-impaired and specially-trained waitress – Serena, who was born 95% blind — will ask you to place your hands on her shoulders and close your eyes as she leads you into the completely dark dining hall and seats you down.
Serena, as she stands outside the dining section:
Upon opening your eyes, it is the strangest feeling to see nothing but black! For the claustrophobes, this is a scary sensation.
The only way to identify Serena in the dining hall is through the bells she wears on her feet, so that you can trace her movements.
While seated, you are encouraged to introduce yourself to your fellow table guests, and this is immediately where my other senses became sharper. Upon shaking Michael’s hand, for example, I noticed that he had very big masculine hands, which I imagined him to be a construction worker, which I got totally wrong by the way (he’s actually the executive director of SAVH).
It hits you how a blind person relies on their sense of touch, taste and smell. So many of these realisations continue to unfold throughout the three-course lunch, while you spill and dribble food while missing your mouth, and generally make a kids-mess out of your plate.
Not giving too much of the experience away (as requested by the organisers), Dining in the Dark caters mainly for lunches and is usually booked by corporate teams, as a bonding session, and also a novelty. They take mass bookings so you cannot just book for two people, as they need to employ the server and ensure that their service utilities are covered from the event.
Upon leaving, I had a new found appreciation and respect for what visually-impaired people go through on a daily basis. Eating, being the most basic and fundamental activity for each of us, is even a struggle without vision.
Find out more about this highly-recommended and truly amazing experience here.
Other services offered at the SAVH centre:
Some street art produced by local volunteers: