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A deeper vision

Sighted in the dark at Blind Cafe

Rosh Rocheleau opens restaurant in Seattle where diners sit in pitch black. Photo courtesy of Blind Cafe

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According to optometrist and visual injury specialist Dr. Thomas Politzer, "Eighty to eighty-five percent of our perception, learning, cognition and activities are mediated through vision." What we think, in other words, is defined largely by what we've seen. Vision is a marvelous gift, but it can inspire and enable some unfortunate preconceptions.

Singer-songwriter Brian Rosh Rocheleau was touring through Iceland when he had a transformative experience. "I went to a café in the dark that was set up for Temporary Disabilities Week. I got to connect with all these people in the dark without seeing them. I thought, ‘Wow, I don't know this person's age. I don't know if they're tall, black, white, in a wheelchair or blind. I don't know if they're wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt or a business suit.' And I noticed that not having any sight gave me a new perspective on how to relate with others. I didn't have my visual conditioning or initial judgements. The waiters were blind at that event. I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be amazing to do a concert-and-dinner experience in the dark, where we use micro-awareness practices and active listening and experience each other without sight?'"

Thus was born Blind Cafe, a pop-up experience that debuted in Colorado and has since traveled to seven other locations. Once the lights go out, diners enjoy a gourmet vegan and gluten-free meal in pitch blackness, served by legally-blind waitstaff. "I knew I wanted to include the blind community," Rocheleau noted, "but I was apprehensive, to be honest. I didn't know if they would dig it." He spoke with legally-blind spoken-word artist Rick Hammond about the project. "He loved the idea. It started selling out, with a huge waitlist." Now it's a fiscally-sponsored organization under the banner of the Boulder County Arts Alliance.

"This event is not about raising money," Rocheleau explained. "It's about raising awareness and how we can connect with each other in a more mindful and compassionate way. Blindness is included in that, but it's not just about blindness. It's about people. In the dark, it doesn't matter if you're blind; you get treated the same. In the light, we feel self-conscious, because we don't know how to talk to a blind person. We say, ‘Can I show you this?' and then get self-conscious about using the word ‘show.' There's all this disconnect that happens in the light because of our visual conditioning. In the dark, the blind crew gets the experience of being treated like everybody else. It's really powerful."

Dinner is followed by a Q&A with legally-blind keynote speakers and ambassadors, then a musical performance by Rosh & the Blind Cafe Orchestra. Only at the end of the last song is the audience's vision restored, when Rosh lights a single candle. "It's almost," Rocheleau sighed, "like we've all woken from a collective dream. It's pretty epic."

BLIND CAFÉ, 6 and 8:30 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., Feb. 1-13, NalandaWest, 3902 Woodland Park Ave. N., Seattle, $85-$195 with some discounted tickets available at, 800.838.3006

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