Eating Dinner in the Dark to support the visually impaired

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- A dinner in Roanoke is changing up the way one nonprofit is raising money. Tonight's benefit dinner is unique, with people eating in the complete dark.

It's part of a community challenge that Roanoke's outgoing Vice-Mayor, David Trinkle, issued to the public. Dinner in the Dark is raising money and awareness for New Vision and visually impaired people in the Roanoke Valley. It's a cause the community has rallied around.

Originally, only 80 tickets were released for the Dinner in the Dark. Those quickly sold out and more spots have been opened up, allowing more people to attend.

To ensure it will be completely dark, the dinner is taking place at the AKA Room, under the Hotel Roanoke. Servers will wear night vision goggles provided by the Roanoke-based Harris Corporation.

"We are always looking for ways to give back to the community," says Erik Fox with Harris Corporation. "This dinner will provide a unique way for our goggles to be used for a great cause, showing people the challenges of being visually impaired in today's world."

Eating dinner in the complete darkness will provide a challenge to these guests that many have never experienced or even thought about before.

"It's so much different than closing your eyes or putting on a blindfold," says John Netzel the Executive Director of New Vision. "They're going to have an experience much more like the people that we serve, that are totally blind. Their senses will be heightened. They'll find new challenges, like how do you navigate where your glass is or where your silverware is? Are you eating off your own plate or your neighbors? So it will be a fun event but also very educational."

Proceeds from Dinner in the Dark will support the free services that New Vision has been providing for visually impaired people in Southwest Virginia for more than 30 years.

David Ward is one of the 150,000 visually impaired people in Virginia. He says his condition was diagnosed in middle school and since then his eyesight has continued to get worse. Before he graduated high school he was declared legally blind.

Ward now works at New Vision, helping other visually impaired students learn to navigate their day to day lives, using software that gives them access to newspapers, TV shows and social media.

"There are things you never think about that are hard," says Ward. "Navigating and getting around-- What if you couldn't drive? How do you use paratransit services? I use a cane at times to get around and in different lighting conditions my vision doesn't work too well."

From magnification software to screen reading technology, the cost for many of these services aren't cheap-- but they're needed in the day-to-day lives of these visually impaired students.

"Just beginning with the basic cost of a computer or tablet," says Netzel. "Then we add specialized software-- either a voiceover that will interact with the student in a voice mode or that will magnify the images and provide special functions for people who have no vision at all. It's very costly."

That's how this dinner is having a huge impact-- providing the funding for New Vision to buy the technology it needs, while keeping services free to students.

The dinner begins at 6 p.m. For more information on how to attend, click here.

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