We left our eyeglasses and purses in a locker, chose a long cane, and went into a room where we (four of us) sat on lighted boxes and waited for the journey to begin. As the lights were dimmed and eventually went out altogether, Willard, our blind guide, introduced himself and began giving us instructions. We walked toward his voice as he led us into our first room – a park with plants, a tree, crickets, birds singing, and both grass and bark chips underfoot in various places. Our journey took us through doors, up a step, across a gangplank and dock onto a boat, into a grocery where we felt vegetables in bins, dairy products in a cooler, and the cash register. We went down steps, across bridges, along storefronts with glass doors and brick walls, across a busy street. All the way Willard was talking and guiding us so that we could experience in a new way, all of the things we had already experienced as sighted people.
At the end of the journey we went into the Dark Café to have a soda, water, or juice and sit around a table so that Willard could tell his personal story and we could ask questions. Willard had worked for both the railroad and MARTA (our Atlanta metro rail system) for years. He became diabetic, suffered a detached retina, and eventually became totally blind at the age of 54. He told us of not handling it very well at first but then Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown eventually convinced him he should get out of the house and attend the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta because there was only so much of that kind of TV that he could listen to. I asked him if he was able to learn Braille so that he could read and unfortunately because of the diabetes, his fingertips were impaired so that he could not feel the dots. But he told us that he can use his computer and it speaks the printed words to him so there is always a way to get information.
This experience was much more emotional for me than I expected. There were times I just wanted to stand there and have someone come and get me. My thoughts were “how do people DO this? It’s a terrifying thought that you could lose your sight.” I would lose the ability to read my precious books and how would I create? I could still hook a rug but who knows what it would look like – I wouldn’t! I felt tears well up for poor Willard several times during the journey. As we learned though – Willard is anything but ‘poor Willard’! As he told us, he had two choices when he went blind. He could sit there and never go out of his house again or he could make the best of it and learn how to do things in new ways. He chose the better way.
Untie a ribbon in your life – you might find an adventure!