Leadership takes a Touch of Understanding

Leadership Classes from around Placer County Learned  about Living with Physical and Mental Challenges

As a member of this year’s Leadership Rocklin class, through the Rocklin Chamber of Commerce, I sat among the other students who were part of Leadership throughout Placer County. This month we were gathered at Sutter Roseville Medical Center to learn more about Health and Human Services within the County. After hearing from representatives that included Pat Brady, CEO of Sutter Roseville Medical Center and Richard Robinson of Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, we were told to get ready for lunch by placing all our personal items under the table and clearing the tabletop. We would be having an interactive lunch and needed to gather outside. No one knew what to expect. 

After 20 minutes of speculation, we were greeted by a representative from A Touch of Understanding, a local organization who encourages respect and understanding for all individuals, especially those living with disabilities. We were told that we would be having a Dark Lunch, meaning we would be blindfolded and spend the next hour and a half experiencing blindness. We were to put on our blindfolds and would be led back into the room, by volunteers who would hand us a white cane and help us navigate our way back to our seats. Admittedly, my first thought was that it was a trick and that I would be the only one who ended up blindfolded. Fear! I didn’t want to be vulnerable and step outside my comfort zone, especially in a group of community leaders. After a couple of minutes, I got over this initial way of thinking, put on my blindfold and waited to be escorted back to my seat. 

I Immediately sought order. I wanted to make sense of the details I remembered and to cling to them-my seat is 4th row back on the right, 3rd seat from the center aisle. The room was much quieter than it had been before we left. People were talking, but it was a more hushed form of conversation than before. My boxed lunch was brought to me and set in front of me. I was told to wait to open it until we were addressed and given instructions. I was nervous. I was silent but listened to the voices around me. I found myself wanting to call out the names of the people I knew, who should be sitting in front of me and to my sides. Instead, I simply listened. I had the urge to check my phone but realized that it would be futile. I felt around for my purse, placed the phone inside, took a deep breath and realized that I had freedom from the constant bombardment of visual input that I normally live with. I was suddenly free from the worry about my posture or what movement might be happening around me. I was simply free to listen and truly hear. 

Shortly, we were addressed by Darlene O’Brien, an ATOU Board Member and a woman who is living with total blindness. She described her journey from being a sighted person to become, quite suddenly, a mother with small children, who was blind. Her voice was soothing and listening to her was comforting. She asked questions of the audience and through sighted volunteers, she was guided to call on those of us who raised our hands. She shared basic etiquette with us and helped us understand the best and most respectful and compassionate ways to address people with various physical and mental disabilities. 

The time passed quickly and the experience had come to an end. We were invited to take off our blindfolds. I didn’t hesitate. The rush of visual input came to me. The room became busier and we all became a little louder. We were back in our comfort zones and processing the world as we do every day. 

There was something comforting about my smaller, more intimate world of blindness. Many of my normal habits and worries were instantly removed. I made sense of what the immediate needs were and clung to those details. I wondered how I would accomplish the myriad of daily tasks in my life without my sight. How would I help my children, clean my house, get from place to place? How would I work, shop, cook? 

I am both thankful for my sight and for this experience. I encourage you to take a few minutes to visit A Touch of Understanding’s website and to attend a workshop or a talk they may have available. Better yet, invite them to your organization to help you and those around you take a little time to step outside your comfort zone and into a little bit of understanding for those around us who live without the things we take for granted.