Katy Fabrie is a member of NewView’s Community Outreach Council and account director for a local PR firm. Today, she’s sharing her experience at our first-ever Blackout Brunch at the Jones Assembly in Oklahoma City.
When I was asked to participate in the NewView Blackout Brunch, my initial reaction was, “Sure, I’m in!” NewView is a wonderful organization, it is the number one employer of the blind and visually impaired in Oklahoma City…and I love brunch.
I knew that, at face value, the brunch might be a challenge. I’d be blindfolded at a busy OKC restaurant for the duration of a meal. However, a small part of me thought that it couldn’t be that hard. For starters, I’ve always considered myself a relatively fit individual. I’ve played sports most of my life, which required I remain stable and on my feet despite shoves and fouls from opponents. Secondly, I played heads-up seven-up in elementary school, and I remember how easy it was to cheat. I’m not proud of this, but I knew that after I was blindfolded, I would likely have the option to look beneath the slit at the bottom of my blindfold to at least gauge my feet, hands, etc. The rest of the meal, I thought, would work itself out.
The thing about expectations is oftentimes they are way off base.
Immediately, when I arrived at the busy Jones Assembly, I knew my plan had gone out the window. For starters, the blindfolds were really thick. They cut off my peripherals and all chances of heads-up seven-up cheating trick. The only way I would be able to see would be to take my blindfold off completely, thus admitting defeat. That was out of the question. Secondly, I hadn’t really thought through the process of walking across the restaurant without my sight. It’s silly, I know, but I decided right then and there that even if I had to use the bathroom, I’d forgo it until the meal was over. Thankfully, a helpful NewView employee came up to me immediately, offered me their elbow, and guided me to my seat. I found out later that offering an elbow to someone who is blind or visually impaired is a small kindness everyone can do. It lets folks know that they are seen and that they are with a safe person.
As I sat down, it quickly became evident that being blindfolded not only hindered my eating and drinking—I’ve never sipped hot coffee so slowly or kicked myself for unknowingly ordering something in a skillet—but it also made conversations difficult. I’ve always considered myself a gregarious person. I love making people laugh, and (on a good day) I think I’m pretty good at it. But as I conversed with those around me, I realized that facial cues were a big part of my comedic routine. It took me longer to answer questions because I had to work out which direction they were coming from, and popping into conversations felt more difficult and awkward than normal. Midway through the meal, I found myself sitting back in my chair and letting conversations happen around me rather than participating in them. This was the most surprising part of the experience. Losing my sight, even for an hour, isolated and silenced me.
Thankfully, I had many patient NewView employees surrounding me who were able to talk me through the difficult parts of my meal and cheer me on when I experienced tiny victories. I was happy to hear their personal stories of hardship and triumph. Taking part in the Blackout Brunch gave me the opportunity to engage in active empathy, and I feel better equipped to help those in my community who suffer from vision loss.