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For one evening, Ros Zeltins’ friends experienced what she deals with everyday when she sits down to enjoy a meal.

Zeltins and her husband, John, along with six of her friends, attended this year’s Dining in the Dark event on August 27 at GingeRoots Asian Grille in Appleton. Those who sat down for dinner feasted on a five-course meal, with one major caveat – they were blindfolded throughout the entire meal.

“My husband and I went to Dining in the Dark two years ago and we had such a good time that, this year, I talked to some of my friends into coming,” Zeltins said. “The food was just great; the wait staff was wonderful. We just had an amazing time.” 

Without relying on their sight, dinner guests had to use other senses to experience the texture, aroma, flavor and taste of each serving.

Zeltins, who lives in Portage, was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) – an eye condition that causes loss of peripheral vision – at a young age. Despite her vision loss, she continued a long career in pharmaceuticals and is enjoying retirement.

Ros and John Zeltins

While many of Zeltins’ longtime friends have a general understanding of the obstacles Zeltins must deal with as a visually-impaired person, the Dining in the Dark event presented a new perspective.

“They were a little bit nervous of spilling and dropping things and how to get the food to your muzzle,” Zeltins said. “They were game to try it and experience some of what I generally have to do. I think they did a pretty good job of getting everything into their mouths.”

“It ended up being a real positive experience for everyone,” Zeltins said. “I was really grateful to my friends for trying to experience something like that and I think they really enjoyed it.”

Zeltins believes the blindfolded experience at Dining in the Dark is a unique opportunity for sighted people to not only gain empathy toward the blind or visually impaired, but also learn how to interact with them.

“I think some people are put-off by someone who can’t see, and it’s not because there’s anything wrong with that person, but by not being exposed very often to someone with a visual problem, people tend to be trepidatious because they don’t know what to expect and they don’t know what to do to make an experience not awkward for both people,” Zeltins said. “I have a little bit of sight left so I can see people’s reactions – they don’t know what to say or do.”

She said the wait staff at GingeRoots was very good at telling the blindfolded participants the placement of dishes and silverware on their table. It took them awhile, but once the blindfolded guests had a general idea of where items were, the meal went smoothly.

“It was good for them to learn the little tricks that I have to do,” Zeltins said. “My biggest hint was to stay low. When you’re looking for your glass of wine or water, just feel along the table bottom because if you reach high, you’re going to knock it over.”

When the evening ended, Zeltins’ friends returned to eating meals and living life with sight, but for Zeltins, the challenges of living everyday visually impaired remains.

“My friends are very emphatic, but you really don’t know what it’s like until you’ve tried something like this and try and gain some insight into what it’s like so I truly appreciate that they were willing to do that.”

Zeltins is already looking forward to next year’s Dining in the Dark and anticipates bringing along more friends to enjoy the evening.

“I already have people lined up for next year who couldn’t go this year,” she said.