The Blindfold – To Use or Not To Use?

Ah, the blindfold.  To use or not to use… 
From the fancy sleep-style mask, the lycra-style blindfold to the good ol’ bandana, there are many things to consider when using blindfolds in a program.   As experiential educators, we usually strive to provide participants voice and choice in the activities we present.   Are we still making room for voice and choice when we ask participants to wear a blindfold?  Have you considered the pros and cons?  
Let’s take a look: 
  • Add depth and challenge to any problem solving activity
  • Increase the difficulty level for high performing teams
  • Restrict sight for chronic ‘peekers’
  • Restricting the use of sight can awaken the other senses, allowing participants to have a new perspective.
  • Hard to judge the emotional safety of participants
  • Inadvertently spread bacteria or lice
  • Unforeseen tripping hazards/bad balance
  • Sanitizing/cleaning between uses
  • Accidentally trigger an emotionally dark place that has nothing to do with your program.  Then, do you have the time and resources to respond appropriately.
I personally don’t use blindfolds in my programming, but that doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t.  We even sell blindfolds in the Training Wheels store because I know that other facilitators like to use them.   Some of my favorite activities use restricted sight as they provide a fantastic level of complexity.  (Blind Line Up, Lines of Communication, Find the Cone)  These activities HAVE to have restricted sight in order for them to work, but just asking people to close their eyes accomplishes the same thing in my opinion.  Would using blindfolds add to, take away or make any difference on the experience?
My opinion on this subject stems greatly from experience.  I try to practice Trauma-Informed philosophies in my programs.  In one of my previous jobs before starting Training Wheels, I was in the adventure therapy world.  I had a bad experience with one participant who freaked out while having a blindfold on, and I’ve been leery of using them ever since.  I worked with too many clients that had experienced trauma in their personal lives, and the blindfold took too much of their personal power away.  I don’t want to further emphasize this in any activity or program I facilitate, so If I want to restrict their sight I simply ask participants to close their eyes.  Then if they feel emotionally or physically unsafe, they can quickly open their eyes, get their bearings back, and then choose to close them again when or if they are ready.  
What are your thoughts on the use of blindfolds?  Join a Facebook discussion on the use of Blindfolds on our Facebook page.
Supportive articles:
Here’s an article by Jen Stanchfield written for the Association for Challenge Course  Technology called The Use of Blindfolds:  Creative Alternatives.
Here’s a quick article on Trauma-Informed Approach and Trauma-Specific Interventions by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association that could be helpful to you.