Blind Café attendees walk into the pitch-black dining room in groups of six

Charity event enlightens the public about blindness

“Why am I feeling so emotional?” I asked myself as I brushed a stray tear from my eye. As quickly as the thought entered my mind, I realized it was rhetorical. I was emotional because I was in a loud, crowded, unknown environment without one of the senses on which I most depend: sight.

My husband and I, along with a large group of strangers, had just taken our first steps into The Blind Cafe, a two-and-a-half-hour-long pop-up charity event that gives sighted folks the opportunity to experience a community meal in a pitch black room.

With our right hand clasping the right shoulder of the person in front of us, we were slowly led to a long, cafeteria-style table by a kind, legally blind waitress who guided each of us to a seat.

I sat, looping my purse straps around my leg as a reminder not to forget my belongings, and felt accomplished for having executed simple tasks without sight. Emboldened, I reached in front of me and found a water bottle, a small paper plate with what felt like a salad, and a larger plate with what I determined was my meal.

Around me, strangers settled in and began introducing themselves. Soon the room was vibrating with excitement as patrons laughed at their own vulnerability, guessed what was being served, or—in some cases—helped the person beside them mop up an accidentally spilled mess.

Blind Café volunteers setting the table

In the darkness, we were introduced to several of the legally blind wait staff who gave thoughtful answers to audience questions about blindness. This, for me, was one of the most enlightening parts of the experience. Then we met the two local chefs who had volunteered their time and talents to make the evening possible. They took us through the menu and explained that, to easily accommodate everyone, the prepared food was vegan, gluten-free and locally sourced. After dinner, we were treated to live music, which we took in with newly heightened senses.

My favorite part of the experience, however, took place toward the very end.

“Pay attention,” said a voice, disembodied, yet able to pierce through the darkness with ease. “This is where the magic happens.”

And then, there was light.

I didn’t expect a single tea light to illuminate an entire restaurant. But it did. I could make out every face.


The next Austin Blind Cafe event will be held November 3–5 at the American Legion Travis Post 76 on 404 Atlanta Street in Austin. For more information, including ticket information and volunteer opportunities, visit www.theblindcafe.com/austin.

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