Dining in The Dark a Chance to See How the Unsighted Live

This year’s dining in the dark will be held Thursday August 17th .

Last year’s inaugural sellout event was held in a basement level room at Hotel Roanoke. So this year “Dining in the Dark” is moving upstairs to a larger ballroom at the hotel said Guy Byrd, the recently installed executive director for New Vision, which exists to provide assistance to the blind and those with severe sight impairment.

The concept: those attending the Thursday August 17th fundraising event (tickets are $80) will eat dinner in total darkness beginning at 6:30pm. Special room blackening curtains will achieve that effect; servers will wear night vision goggles while they serve food and drinks – lest they trip over attendees, who will be seated first with the lights on before the blackout.

New Vision, formerly Voice of the Blue Ridge, was created in 1980 as a radio reading service for the blind and sight impaired. Recipients of the service used special radios set to a sub-frequency of WVTF public radio, listening to volunteers read stories from the Roanoke Times and other periodicals to them over the air.

“The idea is to help people have better connections and access to information –and to the rest of the world in various ways,” said Byrd. “That enables them to more self-sufficient and independent.”

Eventually the radio reading service – hampered by reception problems for some users, noted Byrd – was supplemented by a dial-in phone service, where a person can now call a special number and hear volunteers read the newspaper to them. A recent upgrade includes a partnership with the National Federation of the Blind and now there is access to 400 other publications around the country (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post etc.). “That is a major step forward,” said Byrd.

He also said a new wave of consumer electronic devices hitting the market will be the best way for the visually impaired to connect to the sighted world. New Vision now has an “Assistive Technology Center” at its office in southwest Roanoke County off Starkey Road, which Byrd likens to “stepping into a Best Buy store.” Users can receive training there on devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, which can make life easier these days – for the sighted and for the visually impaired.

New Vision also makes available, free of charge every year, thousands of large print calendars. “They are very much in demand and we run out every year, no matter how many we print,” said Byrd. In fact, there is no charge for any of the services delivered by New Vision – one reason fundraising events like Dining in the Dark, in addition to other donation drives, is so important.

Byrd said Dining in the Dark, presented this year by Vistar Eye Center, was the brainchild of Dr. Dave Trinkle, the Roanoke City councilman and Carilion employee (also an associate dean at the Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine), who saw the concept being used elsewhere while on a trip.

“Everybody who comes will literally have dinner in the dark,” noted Byrd, who also commends Harris Corp. – which bought ITT Night Vision – for supplying night vision goggles and training for the wait staff.

“People who came last year got some sense of what it means to not have all of your senses available,” added Byrd, “and that’s one of the objectives, to help people empathize and understand what visually impaired folks have to deal with.”

A silent auction will also take place (items to be auctioned are still needed). “It’s going to take a certain sense of adventure,” chuckled Byrd – who said it’s not a formal affair.  For information on purchasing tickets and/or donating auction items please see newvisionroa.org, or call 985-8900.

Gene Marrano