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Regarding the "Dining in the Dark" project:

Jane Shober is to be commended for her attempts at increasing awareness of onset disability, in her case, retinitis pigmentosa. Her positive attitude and her desire to support the community of people who have visual impairment is inspiring. Current statistics indicate that one out of nine people will face dramatic life changes because of disability, either congenital or onset. Building awareness is critical to building opportunities for quality life, one that includes understanding, employment and inclusion.

The "Dining in the Dark" project has potential in building awareness of blindness, but, unfortunately, it also promotes stereotypes of blindness that VSA arts and the National Federation of the Blind work hard to dispel. Donning a mask to simulate blindness gives people a very false sense of the world as experienced by the blind. They do not stumble around groping for a chair, or finding a plate of food, but the masked individuals will be doing this. They have not acquired the skills of navigation that blind people use, with the assistance of a cane, or a guide dog, or a trained guide person. They will not understand that blindness is not a constant confusing maze, and, contrary to popular belief, other senses do not kick into overdrive to compensate. Blindness just allows people to use other senses more efficiently.

Use of imagination will build more awareness than donning a mask will do. Looking at the environment will help us understand and appreciate the need for access, for ADA laws, for Braille programs/menus/entrance and bathroom signs and for audio description of visual activities, like art exhibits, theatre performances, and the like. Having the right tools to navigate the world should be a right for all people and education is always the answer.

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Alayne Dolson, executive director, VSA arts of Montana, Missoula

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