Students experience dining in the dark

Helen Arnold warned the room full of diners to keep their arms low so they wouldnt knock drinks over. She also told them to be wary of accidentally eating off their neighbors plates.

Dont raise them high and wave them around in the air, Arnold, community outreach coordinator at Southeastern Guide Dogs, said to diners who attempted to eat their dinner blindfolded Monday night in the USF David C. Anchin Center. Youll knock over something.

Ninety-one guests, including students and community members, attended the Dine in the Dark event, hosted by the Try New Things Club, Rotaract and Pre-Veterinary Society, and staffed by 35 volunteers.

Meant to simulate being visually impaired, attendees donned black blindfolds for the majority of the event as they navigated basic dinner table etiquette.

As participants reached for glasses and scooped up their dinners of rice and pasta, while trying to avoid it ending up in their laps, Arnold explained the importance of the benefiters of the event the guide dogs.

Southeastern Guide Dogs, based in Sarasota, breeds, raises and trains guide dogs for the blind, as well as service dogs for other purposes including therapy dogs and veteran service dogs, she said.

Theresa Green, a senior majoring in studio art, was interested in the event because it benefited the dogs.

Green said she was excited to attempt to eat dinner without her sight something that was once almost a reality for her.

Her vision, she said, began to deteriorate when she was in the sixth grade and her doctor said there was a possibility she could go completely blind someday.

It made me think that I could be blind, so I would spend time walking around my house with my eyes closed to learn the layout, Green said. I want(ed) to keep my independence.

Amanda Furr, a USF psychology student who is blind and has a guide dog, Alice, a 5-year-old Labrador retriever, spoke at the event on the challenges she has faced as a student without sight.

This is my first semester (at USF) actually, she said. I just finished at HCC after three grueling years.

Furr, who was hesitant at first to trust Alice, said she now depends on Alice to traverse campus.

She is my baby, Furr said. She is my best friend.

Michaela Williams, a junior majoring in mass communications and the communications manager for Try New Things, said the idea for the event came from Samantha Lutz, a senior majoring in psychology and president of the Try New Things Club, last spring.

Then we thought, what if we can make it benefiting someone? Williams said.

Tickets for the event cost students $10 to $15 and included dinner, donated by Ciccios California Cuisine, and frozen yogurt for dessert, donated by The Yogurt Spot. Attendees also participated in a silent auction of various items donated by the events sponsors.

Jalina Pittman, a junior majoring in elementary education, said she had had never heard of Southeastern Guide Dogs before the event.

I knew of guide dogs, but never thought of what goes on behind the scenes, Pittman said. It is a great incentive.

Pittman said though she was excited about the event, she was worried about dropping the food.

But throughout the dinner, attendees were directed by their waiters, or guides, as to where food or utensils were on the table. Guides explained to participants where their food was on their plates or how much of their meals they had left by directing them to the direction it would be on a clock.

It makes me grateful for my sight, Green said. It makes me happy that I still can see and prepares me for what can possibly happen.