Shedding light on one man's life without sight

Visually impaired waiter has to feel his way around, but he proves highly useful in his job

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 4:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 4:18am

Whenever Calvin stumbles as he tries to feel his way around the city's bustling streets, he is immediately greeted by scores of impatient pedestrians.

"You have millions of people behind you … You're in the way," said the visually impaired Hong Kong resident who wanted to be known only by his first name. "People will get annoyed. Sometimes you bump into people by accident and they'll stare at you."

To Calvin, who has glaucoma - a disease caused by increased fluid pressure in the eye - such unpleasant interactions are just one of his many daily burdens.

Not yet completely blind, his eyesight began deteriorating when he was pursuing his master's degree in biotechnology about 25 years ago.

Once an engineer and a manager, Calvin now works as a waiter at Alchemy in the Dark, a new French restaurant in Central where patrons dine with the lights off. The experience is special to him because he is given the chance to help and interact with people - something he rarely experiences in the light.

"In the dark, your guests feel like they need you. You'll give them comfort, they trust you," Calvin said. "It kind of breaks down the barrier."

The prospect of losing his sight hasn't always been easy for Calvin to deal with. "It's really psychological," he said. "You go from mid-management to a waiter ... But once you take the first step, it's much easier."

According to Calvin, job opportunities for visually impaired people are limited in Hong Kong. Employers tend to see them as an inconvenience. But in reality, there is technology that allows the visually impaired to function in a work environment, he said.

In 2008, only 8,700 out of 122,000 people with seeing difficulties were employed, according to a government survey.

Agnes Yuen Man-hung, a social worker from the Society for the Blind, said challenges such jobseekers face include finding an employer who is willing to accommodate their needs, for example helping them navigate.

"It can be a problem for those who are completely blind," Calvin said. "That's life here."