Hello Darkness, My New Friend

An experience at Davos was presented to me, “Do you want to Dine in the Da—". Yes, yes I do. I didn’t need the rest of the sentence. I wanted to dine in the dark.

This dinner was set after dark at the peak of a mountain high up in the Swiss Alps.

We arrived with the other dinner guests to a base camp via gondola. Very little information was given to us, and no one knew what to expect. The rules were announced: absolutely no cell phones or light sources of any kind, once you enter the room you may not exit...

We were lined up in groups of five. I was at the lead, and a Canadian man who owns a chain of kindergartens was the tail. Greg was behind me, then two gorgeous anchor-women followed him. Our arms were on the shoulders of the person before us. We navigated down two flights of stairs in this formation. The Light grew dimmer and dimmer to help us adjust to the total darkness that awaited.

The first guide delivered us to the warm welcome hands of Adi, our leader. By now it is pitch black. Adi had my hands and spoke gently and confidently: “Val, there is a ramp. You will not fall”. The ramp was steeper than I expected. I screamed a little. “Val you are doing great.” I yelled to the tail of the line the ramp was steep but safe. We made it down. From here Adi seated us, one by one at the dinner table.

Adi invited us to carefully examine what was on the table before us at our place settings. My hands revealed a full place setting: a starter salad plate, two forks, two knives, water, and wine glasses. Initially, the guests at my table were suffering from anxiety and restlessness. Adi whispered reassuring affirmations to one of the news anchors and guided her through breathing exercises. The gentleman next to me (not Greg) asked me to keep speaking to him because I was calming him down. Wow! The dark is opposite town!

Listening to the others reaction was interesting to me. I felt surprisingly peaceful, maybe from my experiences in dark theaters or the Prospector's "Seeing Blind" challenges. Or, perhaps because I allowed myself to trust in the ability of Adi to keep us safe and steer us clear. Through our hands, I felt that Adi had a secret.

Slowly, everyone adjusted. We had a fun and engaging conversation through the three-course meal. It was delicious, flavorful, easy to eat cuisine. It was really, really hard to use fork and knife in the pitch dark. Night vision surveillance would have revealed me eating like a caveman. Same as always. I recommended this method to the others.

Adi taught me how to pour water in the dark by placing my finger in the cup to feel when it is full. I could hear another table in the distance attempting this feat with wine, and they missed the cup. “WAS IT RED WINE?” they screamed. I was team champ of the water pouring. Didn’t even spill a drop! No one else at the table wanted the water; I should say the RISK of the water. Things that may seem low risk in the light felt like extreme hazards all of a sudden in the darkness. I loved it. Only after the lights came on did I realize there was a platter made of bark on the table that I was trying to break off to eat like bread. I. Am. An. Animal.

Through the whole dinner, Adi was with us, guiding us, helping us, and comforting us. I knew from the moment he had taken my hands and felt him feeling me - Adi was Blind.

After dessert was cleared came the big reveal of the night: all of the servers were blind. Chills throughout the room. Gasps. Cheers.

These leaders/servers had led our groups and had a level of empathy in their interaction with us that I don’t believe can be taught. They had our trust from the first step to the last. I saw what they saw. They knew it was hard for us and wanted to make it better. The small gestures, a warm hand on our shoulder, a “Val, are you ok over there?" or "Greg are you still here?" was very comforting and reassuring. The group of leaders were introduced to us one by one. They were from countries all over the world and had come together at the World Economic Forum to create this interactive, engaging sensory experience.

After dinner, Adi and I sat together. He is a technology accessibility consultant from London. We traded favorite adaptive technologies and sang the joys of the accessibility features of the iPhone then started geeking out over web compliance trackers. Adi said he never met anyone like me, with this kind of passion matching his own for technology and accessibility. I asked Adi if he knew colors. Adi told me he had sight until 17 and of course, he knows colors. “I think you should know I have hot pink hair” He squealed in delight: “May I touch it? Is Greg’s hair hot pink too?!”

I felt gratitude to Adi for supporting us through the Dining Dark mission. Accessibility is always on my mind. I look at barriers, obstacles, and hazards. So many of these could be removed if people recognized the universal safety and need for excellent signage and clear passageways. I know that people who are visually impaired are vitally important to the workforce and am excited that new and emerging technologies will increase the opportunities for education, social, cultural, community, civic, and work participation.

Adi and I felt like old friends (I hope he thought so too). We discussed narrative description at the movies. He was blown away by the commitment to testing, educating, and maintaining the equipment, and the dedication of the Prospector Theater to quality check the content the studios provide. He is happy with his movie theater in London, where he can sit with his headset on a couch with a pint of beer. I can’t wait to visit. I hope he knows I will still expect him to guide my way.

Valerie and her “Dining in the Dark” leader, Adi, in Davos, Switzerland.

Valerie and her “Dining in the Dark” leader, Adi, in Davos, Switzerland.