The Yemaya Chapter of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority Inc. hosted its annual Dining in the Dark event on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in the Asa Packer Dining Hall. The event aimed to raise awareness for the visually impaired. (Olivia Howell/B&W Staff)

Dining in the Dark event delves into visual impairment

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As participants took their seats for dinner, they covered their eyes with blindfolds.

They attempted to pour water, which resulted in many spills and overflowing cups.

As they remained seated and blindfolded, chapter members of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority Inc. served participants pasta, chicken and garlic bread.  

Although two attendees, Daniel John, ’22, and Era Shuaipi, ’22, had trouble locating the food on their plates and at one point, had no idea how much food they had left to eat, they both knew their troubles were only temporary.

The Yemaya Chapter of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority Inc. hosted its annual Dining in the Dark event on Nov. 8 in the UC to allow students to experience visual impairment.

The event was hosted to raise awareness of what it’s like to be visually impaired and to discuss resources available at Lehigh and in Bethlehem for people with visual impairment. At the dinner, participants did everything blindfolded, including eating, pouring water and talking.

The dinner in the Asa Packer Dining Hall was crowded, upbeat and energetic as chapter members and participants walked around engaging with individuals, organizations, resources, technologies, seeing-eye dogs and other displays about visual impairment. There were four dogs, ranging from a small puppy to 9 years old.

Debbie Rozear, the vice president of the Lehigh Valley Council of the Blind, talked to participants as they pet her seeing eye dog, Virgil, who was matched with her through the Our Eyes Have Paws program. The program breeds four kinds of dogs and teaches, socializes and acclimates them to all types of environments. The dogs then have to pass seeing-eye dog school.

Rozear works at the Center for Independent Living. She is a licensed massage therapist and is legally blind.

Rozear lost her sight 20 years ago and was the only legally blind participant at the event. She makes multicolor, decorative lawn chairs in her free time. She said she also does chair caning, which is a method of weaving chair seats.

Shuaipi recognized that being blindfolded for one dinner doesn’t truly teach you how visually impaired people feel.  

“People that are blind have no choice,” she said. “If (using a blindfold) gets too hard, I can stop.”

But even in the short time he couldn’t see, John said he had some trouble carrying out tasks that are usually simple and second-nature to him.

John and Shuaipi signed up for the event together as a way to meet new people during their first semester at Lehigh.

While the event was upbeat and chatty, Nathaly Rodriguez, ’22, felt the deep impact of the event immediately.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of what people with disabilities go through, they forget about them,” Rodriguez said. “It’s cool to put yourself in their perspective, you become more aware.”

Eliza Dent, ’19, a member of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority Inc. and the president of the Cultural Greek Council, said the chapter is trying to raise awareness about something that isn’t really talked about at the university by other organizations and community members.

“Lehigh is privileged,” Dent said. “We talk a lot about race and gender, and we could put more emphasis on disabilities and (the privileges of) being able-bodied.”

Chapter President Aisha Abdulkarimu, ’20, said the event was first hosted in 2013 with the Disability Services Office, and it became a Mu Sigma Upsilon event in 2014.

Abdulkarimu said when the chapter took over the event, members saw it “as a really good event to put others in other people’s shoes.”

While the event doesn’t relate to the chapter’s general philanthropy, Abdulkarimu said Dining in the Dark effectively sparked a conversation about the details and inequality of visual impairment. 

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