We’re all studying to be optometrists, but what does that really mean? Is it handing out glasses and contacts? Is it checking a patient’s ocular health? Is it using fancy equipment like a phoropter and retinoscope? It’s actually so much more than that. As students, sometimes we get so wrapped up in getting good grades and studying constantly (all day, everyday) that it becomes hard to remember the mission we have as optometrists–that is, to perfect a person’s vision and eye health in order to better their everyday lives.
Luckily, they really emphasize the bigger picture at ICO. As a new member to the Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity club, I had the chance to volunteer at an event put on in honor of World Sight Day, which was last Thursday, Oct. 10. Prior to ICO, I had no idea this day existed so I’ll give you a little background. Simply put, World Sight Day is an annual day of awareness held on the second Thursday of October, to focus global attention on blindness and vision deficits. So what did that mean for the students at ICO?
The Friday before World Sight Day, a group of students headed to Zapatista, a Mexican restaurant in the South Loop. This was the site of a “dining in the dark” fundraiser to benefit Optometry Giving Sight, and participants took on the challenge of living without sight. Before dinner started, they carefully placed blindfolds over their eyes and were now only had access to their remaining four senses. If you can imagine, eating dinner without knowing exactly where your fork is and then awkwardly grabbing someone’s hand…well, that was just the beginning of it. A few friends and I volunteered at the event. I helped my vision-impaired colleagues locate everything from tortillas to the bathroom. Forks flew, drinks spilled, and hands and words became the key to the students’ ability to navigate.
The aspect of volunteering I found most interesting was witnessing everyday situations really illustrate how much we take our vision for granted. As I led a blindfolded colleague, Katie, to the bar, I got the bartender’s attention for her and they both proceeded to have a conversation about her next drink (side note: if you’re ever at Zapatista, order a strawberry margarita on the rocks–it rocked my world). The bartender quickly walked away after taking Katie’s order, as the bar was bustling with customers. However, Katie was still talking because she had no social cue that the bartender had jetted off somewhere. “Katie, she’s gone,” I said, and although we both laughed, I realized this must only be the tip of the iceberg of the kind of situations that people with vision impairments experience on a day to day basis.
All in all, I felt humbled and blessed to have vision that is so good to me and prevents me from reaching for someone’s face rather than my margarita (which yes, did happen). World Sight Day gave us all great insight and if you ever get the chance to take away your vision, I highly encourage it. It will give you a perspective into life that you would have probably never seen.