MANATEE — Bradenton’s Gladys I. Unger, 83, is legally blind, with no peripheral vision or depth of field perception, but that doesn’t stop her from bowling once a week.
She carries a 105 average.
“I can see the pins,” says Unger who once bowled a 214 game and a 432 series. “It’s only hard when I have to try to pick up certain spares.”
Unger, whose nickname for the last 40 years has been “Toots,” is one of roughly 50 who attend “Dinner for the Blind,” held 6:30 p.m. the third Friday of every month at Hope Lutheran Church, 4635 26th St. W., Bradenton.
The church started its ministry for the visually impaired a year ago.
The next dinner scheduled 6:30 p.m. Friday marks a full year that the church has had these social occasions for the visually impaired.
The dinners are open to members of the public who would like to give a speech, make a friend or share their creative talents, said Judy Hale, organizer of the event.
All of the diners have their own stories, like Unger, but what the stories seem to have in common is that many who are visually impaired are not life-impaired.
It’s ironic, Hale said, that it sometimes take the disabled to teach others the joy of life and the importance of bonding.
“At our dinners, everyone talks away,” said Hale, who is also Hope Lutheran’s chairperson for evangelism. “They want to know everyone there. They want to bond and be part of each other’s lives. And they do bond.”
Judy Hale’s husband, Bill, is the driver of the church bus that picks up the diners at their homes and the one who motived his wife to start the ministry.
“When I wanted to quit, he kept me going,” Hale said. “He would say, ‘There are people out there who need you. You can’t stop.’ ”
Hale wanted to quit because she found herself worrying about saying the wrong thing to the blind.
I was scared I would say, ‘I’ll see you later,’ “ Hale said. “Or that I would say something that would offend. Finally, the blind people said, ‘Judy, just stop it. We say, ‘See you later,’ too.”
Hale also learned that the blind don’t mind being called blind, visually impaired or sight challenged.
They just don’t want to be pitied or led around or treated like invalids, she said.
“I heard about the dinner for the blind and I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for people who are blind to go and socialize,” said Bradenton’s Debbie Grubb, who is a member of First Baptist Church in downtown Bradenton and helps get the word out to other churches about the ministry.
“Some people feel uncomfortable with people with disabilities. But this church has broken those barriers,” Grubb said.
Once that barrier is cleared, rich friendships can follow, Hale said.
“What I discovered is that there are no disabilities,” Hale said. “You would think being unsighted would be a total disability. But they do everything. They have no limitations on what they can do.”
”For more information, or to attend a future dinner, call 747-6967..
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.