Formal in the Dark

Thursday, 11 May, 2017 - 12:00
Formal in the Dark organised by the MCR to raise awareness of visual impairment

Ever wonder how it feels like to live your daily life without eyesight?

Inspired by the recent drama film/documentary, Notes on Blindness, about the loss of sight of Fitzwilliam alumnus John M. Hull (Theology 1959) before the birth of his son, Winnie Yeung (MPhil Pharmacology 2016), one of the MCR welfare officers, organised ‘Formal in the Dark’.

"It is hoped that through the dinner, participants could gain a first-hand experience of the daily struggle of people who have sight loss problems, as well as learning how to support people who are visually impaired," she said.

More than 30 daring participants joined this first-time event on 5 May. Throughout the dinner, blindfolded diners took turns experiencing what it is like to be visually impaired. Without eyesight, participants relied mainly on their taste buds to enjoy the freshness of the asparagus starter, the tenderness of the duck breast, as well as the sweet and sour combo of the lemon tart as the grand finale.

Students relied on the support of their dedicated carers, friends who took turns being sighted diners, to navigate the processes of eating without losing dining etiquette- from finding food, cutting it into manageable pieces, and getting the food into their mouths without smearing sweet potato mash all over their faces. Many of the participants agreed with the difficulty of dining properly, as well as making conversation sans nonverbal cues, without the use of eyesight, relating the everyday obstacles of people who have permanent sight loss problems.

Not only did this event raise a donation for CamSight, a local charity that supports people of all ages with sight loss problems, but also it raised awareness of visual impairment among participants. It is hoped that this dining experience can be expanded into a larger scale event in the future, extending collaborations with CamSight on providing visual awareness training to students, Fellows and staff at Fitzwilliam College.  

Notes on Blindness

After losing sight, John Hull knew that if he did not try to understand blindness it would destroy him. In 1983 he began keeping an audio diary.

Over three years John recorded over sixteen hours of material, a unique testimony of loss, rebirth and renewal, excavating the interior world of blindness.

Published in 1990, the diaries were described by author and neurologist Oliver Sacks as, ‘A masterpiece… The most precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read.’

Since premiering at Sundance in January 2016 (alongside a virtual reality project) the film has played at over 40 international festivals.

It won the Best Documentary at the British Independent Film Awards and was nominated for 3 BAFTAs (including Best Documentary and Outstanding British Film).

Notes on Blindness was shown on BBC Four on 16 February 2017.

Find out more about Notes on Blindness and John M. Hull >>

Being a graduate student at Fitzwilliam – the MCR >>