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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Person

MT
Yevgeny Sotnikov, 28, waiter in the dark dining room at the restaurant V Temnote?!

I used to be a professional driver. I became blind two years ago after suffering an accident. I thought my vision might come back but it didn't, and I became really depressed. I went through rehabilitation, where you relearn how to walk, eat, do everything. It didn't help me psychologically, though. I was still very apathetic about everything in my life.

"A year and a half ago I was selected from a local support group for blind people to work in this restaurant. I didn't feel anything about it at that point; I wasn't happy or sad about it. I didn't really know what this was all about; initially I thought it was a joke. Now I can't imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't been selected. If it hadn't been for [restaurant owner] Igor Medvedev, I would have the kind of awful job most blind people have, making medical pipettes or something like that.

"All of us were taken to France for two weeks to go through training at Dans le Noir, the first restaurant to have a dark dining room. In training, we were taught to rely on talking. The seeing staff will use walky-talkies to tell a waiter when the customers have arrived. When the customers come, I walk outside and greet them. I tell them to line up and put their hands on each other's shoulders. I place the leader's hand on my shoulder and guide the customers into the dining room. Then, the waiters use different kinds of carts to deliver the four varieties of 'surprise menu.'

"For me it's always dark so each shift is just another day at work, but for the customers it's a really intense experience. At first people are uncomfortable and you can feel how cautious they are walking in. Then, when they realize they cannot be seen, they become uninhibited.

"I know my way around the dining room as well as I know my way around my own apartment. I am so grateful to have a job that allows me to be part of a community. The work is engaging and I get a chance to socialize. It's nice that at the restaurant everyone, including the blind waiters, are held to the same standards and treated the same way. Everyone is expected to work hard and act professionally."