Do You See What I See?

With her compassionate spirit and beautiful smile, Shalini Melon (‘17) surely stands out from the many talented and incredible individuals on this campus. She is one of the friendliest people I could ever meet. From her personal experience of being blind, after realizing that some people are uncertain about how to approach people with disabilities, Shalini wanted to create and offer a space for questions, answers, and stories. On Saturday (12/5/15), she hosted an event called “A Look Into What I See”, in which a student could wear a blindfold and experience dinner as a blind person.  Ultimately, it was a chance to learn.

It started off like any other meal at Val. That night, I served myself pasta with pesto, mushrooms, and sweet potato (my favorite!). Then, I walked to the stairs leading down to the basement, bewildered and not knowing what exactly to expect next. A group of Shalini’s friends were waiting, eager to help us blindfolded attendees. After tying my bandana over my eyes, I linked my arm with a helper. Every step I took down the seemingly endless stairs unraveled a bit of my confidence. This wouldn’t be my last challenge.

As I was led to my seat, I noticed that I didn’t fully trust my own body or my guide. Instead of taking normal strides, I took small, hesitant steps, asking questions at every second. Am I there yet? Why is this room so big? This is why blind people use canes to help them find their way around. So many rapid thoughts flashed into my head that finally sitting down at the chair felt like a huge milestone. But the next obstacle came shortly after: the food.
Even though I knew exactly what I put on my plate, my fork apparently did not. With every bite of food, I had two sorry bites of metal. Unlike before when I could have normally pierced the mushrooms, this time I had to scrape them onto my fork. Not only did I have to find new ways to eat, I became more reliant on my sense of touch, especially when it came to the sweet potato. Although I wanted to contribute to Val’s initiative to decrease food waste, it was hard for me to know how much food I had left on my plate. Adding onto the difficult task of eating blindly, my brain had to juggle the goal of carrying a conversation. Even though I ran into the same problems that another attendee, Lily Fang (‘18), faced, like having a “hard time following conversation in the noisy room”, not being able to see what I was eating or who I was talking to did not diminish my happiness at all.  

When Shalini got up to speak, I learned so much about her stories and struggles, like navigating the snow-covered campus during the winter. The event successfully accomplished Shalini’s goal for more people to better understand what it’s like having a disability, specifically blindness. Even though she is blind, she can still clearly envision a better future. She hopes that someday, no one will feel too awkward to introduce themselves to blind people. One of the thoughts that Shalini shared was that because of her disability, it is really up to other people to introduce themselves and make their presence known. Lily speaks the truth when she says, “[l]uckily, Shalini is so sweet and charismatic, so she’s easy to talk to”.

With the holiday season approaching, there are many great opportunities to take the time to give some love to  the less-appreciated elements of everyday life. I know the moment I took off my bandana, I felt extremely grateful for light and colors. Even if the dinner was only a tiny glimpse into Shalini’s life, many attendees would agree with Lily that they “definitely have more perspective after experiencing this dinner”. The world is filled with so many lessons to learn and hearts to touch, but, sometimes, we learn more about our surroundings and their values with our eyes closed.