Member Spotlight: Edith Bishel Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired – Dinner in the Dark

July 16, 2019

A Different Kind of Dinner

A blindfolded guest is served bread at a previous Dinner in the Dark event.

Imagine you are attending a nonprofit fundraiser. You have your best gala clothes on and are eyeing the items available for auction. A local chef has meticulously constructed a delicious meal for you to enjoy with the other guests. Soon after you arrive, you blindfold yourself and spend the rest of the evening in the dark, eating your meal without the use of sight. If you live in the Tri-Cities area, you have the chance to join this unique event and support a nonprofit that provides essential services for the blind and low vision communities in Southeast Washington.

The Edith Bishel Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired will celebrate it’s 15th annual Dinner in the Dark fundraiser on September 28th—an evening of fine dining that will tantalize the senses while raising awareness and resources for the center. Executive Director, Paul Shane, is especially excited to work with the chef preparing the meal this year to create an experience all about taste, feeling, and smell—senses that become emphasized when sight is removed. Shane explains that the dinner is “a small, small window of what a blind person actually experiences day to day.”

The dinner will feature blind YouTube sensation Tommy Edison as the speaker. Edison, who has been blind since birth, uses humor to share about living without sight in his videos. With over 650,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, he promises to be an educational and entertaining speaker.

Tommy Edison's YouTube channel, with an image of a video titled, The Tommy Edison Experience - Funny Side of Being Blind.
The Tommy Edison Experience – Funny Side of Being Blind video

Meeting Needs and Raising Awareness

A teenager guides a blindfolded man through an outdoors path during the Blindfold Walk.

The Edith Bishel Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired has proudly served the counties of Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Yakima, and Klickitat for the last 29 years and remains the only provider of services for this population. Services range from optometric low-vision examinations to social events for children with vision loss, including a beeping Easter egg hunt. The University of Washington has identified 8,793 people who are blind and low vision in this area in need of services.

Beyond meeting essential needs, they also promote awareness through events like the Blindfold Walk. Participants walked blindfolded through a 1-mile route with a partner to guide them and played beep baseball, a variant of baseball for the blind and visually impaired. True to its name, in beep ball the ball beeps, the bases buzz, and the blind and the sighted play cooperatively.

The Edith Bishel Center emphasizes the importance for an individual with a disability to be able to advocate for themselves. They encourage their community to know the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so they can fight for their rights and respond to discrimination. They recognize the importance of staying up to date with technological innovation, knowing that new things to help people with disabilities come along every day and just one device or technique can make life a whole lot easier.

A group of people play beep baseball in a field.
A group of people play beep baseball in a field.

Want to learn more about accessibility? The Edith Bishel Center team shares some insights and tips:

  • Top piece of advice for other nonprofits: make sure that your website is ADA compliant! For agencies that require paperwork, have someone on staff to help, reading everything to the blind person before having them sign it. Offer any paperwork you have in accessible formats, large print, cd, etc.
  • Treat all people with dignity and respect at all times, in all situations. Do your best not to pander to them or inadvertently be condescending. You will make mistakes and will be quickly forgiven and respected for making a conscious effort to be a better person.
  • Just because a person has some type of disability does not mean the are not worthy of your respect, less than in some way, or do not have something valuable to contribute to society. Do not assume that a person with a disability cannot do something or meet some standard. Just ask! They won’t be offended and will most likely be overjoyed that you are treating them like a person. They will gladly inform you of what they can do and what assistance they need, if you ask.
  • Engage your key stakeholders on an ongoing basis, listen to them, and change your practices accordingly. This mean all stakeholder groups: volunteers, clients, staff, board members, donors and contributors, key community allies and champions, etc.
  • Don’t assume that one person or one group represents the interests and characteristics of an entire community.
  • Above all, speak directly to people with disabilities, not at them and definitely not to people who are with them. 

The Blind Hiker

The blind hiker poses with other hikers at the top of Candy Mountain.

Recently Shane hiked to the top of Candy Mountain with a blind hiker. At the summit, they encountered a man with his young son. The blind hiker, eager to shatter deeply held stereotypes, hesitantly approached the man and introduced herself as a blind hiker. The man, in front of his child, said “I’m sorry” and walked away without shaking her hand. Shane recalls his reaction: “What was he sorry for? The blind hiker had just climbed the same mountain that he had climbed, and most likely quicker. Getting to the top of the mountain for the first time should have been a magical experience for this blind hiker but was now tainted by this man’s insensitivity, someone who readily passed his ignorant belief system down to his impressionable child through his actions. Think, think, think, before you speak and act, that is best advice that I can give, just think!” Fortunately that wasn’t the only mountain experience that day—they met other hikers on the trail, all happy to connect with them and some even paused to take a picture. The blind hiker wasn’t deterred. She plans to summit Badger Mountain next.

The Edith Bishel Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the blind and visually impaired in southeastern Washington. Their mission is to enrich the independence and quality of life for individuals who are blind and visually impaired. They serve Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Yakima, and Klickitat counties. The Center has been a Washington Nonprofits member since 2011.

In our monthly Member Spotlight, Washington Nonprofits features members who are doing something worth sharing. It can be a best practice, implementation of a new idea, or something that may help others to tackle a challenge. Do you have a story that you would like to share? Contact us! We would love to hear from you.

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