LISD sponsors sensory experience with ‘Desserts in the Dark’

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Lauren Fryman, a senior from Adrian High School and part of the culinary program at the Lenawee Intermediate School District, will be making pies for the “Desserts in the Dark” program on February 7. The event, part of Adrian’s First Friday activities, is designed to bring awareness to students in the county with visual impairments. Participants will be blindfolded while they enjoy pies created by the culinary students. Photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

On Friday, Feb. 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at “Desserts in the Dark,” people can experience a little bit of what life is for the visually impaired. Sponsored by the Lenawee Intermediate School District (LISD) as part of Adrian’s First Friday activities, and coordinated by LISD Teacher for the Visually Impaired Gretchen Finkbeiner, LISD TECH Center Dean of Students Joel Rodriguez, and LISD Community Relations Coordinator Ann Hinsdale-Knisel, the evening is designed to bring awareness of the challenges of visual impairment.

“We’re always trying to bring attention to the vision impaired,” Knisel said. “We want to help people in our county be sensitive to different impairments.”

“I’d like to give people the chance to learn and experience something,” said Finkbeiner. “It’s a learning experience.”

Some LISD students navigate education every day in a darkened classroom due to visual impairment. Finkbeiner works with approximately 15 students throughout the county. Depending upon when a child is diagnosed, Finkbeiner might even begin working with a child as a toddler.

“Most of my students are just intermixed in regular classrooms,” Finkbeiner said. “I’ve been involved with one little one since she was six-months-old and she is now three.”

The goal for the evening is to highlight challenges that must be overcome by students with visual impairment. Finkbeiner does not want pity for her students, but understanding of how hard they work on a daily basis.

Learning the system of Braille is an in-depth and detailed process. In addition to learning individual letters and punctuation as part of Braille, students also have to recognize letters that represent a whole word, letter pairs and short form words.

Finkbeiner will have a Brailler at “Desserts in the Dark” for people interested in learning more about the machine, as well as books in Braille and other technology used to assist visually impaired students. “Braille takes up a great deal more space than regular print,” she said.

Doug Spade will be the speaker during each session of “Desserts in the Dark.” He brings his personal experiences of navigating through life with vision impairment, including his student years, time as a legislator and his work in broadcasting.

“He is very very excited to participate,” Knisel said. “He has been just a wonderful partner in helping us think through how to organize the evening.”
The event takes place at the Joe Ann Steele Carriage House, located behind the Croswell Opera House in downtown Adrian. When entering The Carriage House, Finkbeiner will present equipment designed for her students, as well as a dessert menu written in Braille.

Every 30 minutes, between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., approximately 20 participants will be blindfolded and led to tables. LISD TECH Center Culinary Arts students will serve homemade pies and beverages to each participant.

“We don’t want people to feel crowded,” said Knisel about the limited seating.
Spade will make his presentation and answer questions while dessert is enjoyed by participants. As people leave the event, everyone will receive a card with suggestions for follow-up questions for family and friends.

According to Knisel the idea came from an event called “Dining in the Dark” made popular on the East Coast. Participants try to navigate through ordering and eating an entire dinner while blindfolded.

“We’ve simplified the idea so our LISD Culinary students could prepare and serve the desserts,” Knisel said. “We’re hoping families will come.”

Finkbeiner thinks the evening will also be helpful in understanding macular degeneration, commonly found in older adults.

Sponsors for “Desserts in the Dark” include Joe Ann Steele, the LISD and Doug Spade. Pre-registration for the event is not necessary, but serving will be on a first come, first serve basis. For more information contact Rodriguez at 265.1658.

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