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ForSight Vision offers a chance to dine in the dark
A soft, frilly mound of mashed potatoes sits on your plate next to a clump of sauteed greens and a chicken leg. You try to memorize this simple geography before putting on your blindfold.
A landscape of sounds surrounds you, and a table mate's laugh, appearing suddenly in the foreground, feels uncomfortably close.
Trying to eat while wearing the blindfold is dizzying — you get a strange and different sense of depth perception without sight.
There's also a feeling of vulnerability: You don't know how much food hangs on your fork with each bite, and you wonder if anyone sees when you get too much and a little falls out of your mouth.
When dessert rolls around, you think you're in the clear.
But as you stab at your plate hoping to get a bite of chocolate icing, a mischievous fellow diner whisks away your plate and replaces it with his own empty one.
In the dark: Thursday night, ForSight Vision, a nonprofit organization that provides services to help prevent and prepare for blindness and visual impairment and assist those who are blind or visually impaired, hosted Dining in the Dark, a fundraiser meant to raise awareness about blindness and visual impairment.
Guests were given sleep masks to use as blindfolds, and pairs of modified glasses meant to simulate conditions that lead to visual impairment — glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts — sat on each table.
Bill Rhinesmith, president of the organization, addressed participants before dinner began. He said the point of eating dinner while blindfolded was not to simulate blindness. That would be impossible.
"At the end of the dinner, we can take our blindfolds off," he said.
Rather, the point was to heighten the other senses by subtracting sight.
Nine-year-old Luis Perez, a client of the organization, played a few songs on the keyboard to a rapt audience during dessert.
Before dinner, Luis, who is blind, said he was excited for the performance.
He said likes to do crafts at the ForSight Vision Center. The last thing he made there, he said, was a silk spiderweb.
Rhinesmith's wife, Marion Lorence, teaches an arts-and-crafts class to the organization's youngest clients.
"We say that all kids should have the opportunities to have the same experiences," she said.
Lorence adapts projects to suit blind and visually impaired children.
During her last class, the students carved apples instead of pumpkins, she said.
Offering hope: About 62 people participated in this year's Dining in the Dark, Rhinesmith said, double the number that came in 2014, the event's first year.
Most of the event's attendees were connected to the organization in some way, he said.
But Bill Goldberg and his wife, Suzanne Gates, of Thomasville, just came for the experience.
"We thought it'd be interesting (to eat dinner blindfolded)," Gates said.
"We've been thinking about doing sensory-deprivation things here and there, like going a day without speaking."
Gates' father had macular degeneration, which causes vision loss.
Recalling her father's illness, Gates said, "Some of the joys of his life were taken away. He loved to read."
Gates said she ordered a tape recorder to enable her dad to listen to the news, but eventually his vision got so bad he couldn't operate the device.
Years ago, she said, she and her youngest son went to the York County Blind Center (ForSight's former name) to read the newspaper aloud so the blind and visually impaired people there could hear the news.
Jennifer Zack, clinical director at ForSight, helps people with blindness and visual impairment function the best they can.
Sometimes, a specific level of lighting is all someone with visual impairment needs to help them; sometimes, they need magnification or other tools or technologies, she said.
Rhinesmith said he likes the challenge of proving people wrong when they say that those with vision loss can't accomplish the same things anyone else can.
"We offer hope," Zack agreed.
— Reach Julia Scheib at email@example.com.