For years, NBC correspondent Peter Alexander watched his sister, Rebecca, battle an illness that slowly robbed her of sight and hearing.
He watched her struggles but never truly experienced them until he spent a recent lunch hour with her — blindfolded.
At his sister’s urging, Alexander took the How Eye See It challenge to better understand the experiences of more than 10 million Americans affected by retinal degenerative diseases.
The Foundation Fighting Blindness is using the challenge to raise awareness and $2.5 million by World Sight Day on October 13. The organization hopes the experiment educates people about blindness similar to the way the Ice Bucket Challenge increased awareness for ALS two years ago.
Usher Syndrome is robbing Rebecca Alexander of her hearing and sight, although a cochlear implant has enabled her to hear again. Rebecca's sight is nearly completely gone and only getting worse.
Yet she has overcome challenges that even people with sight have failed to accomplish. She climbed Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro last year and, more recently, swam the choppy San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz prison to shore.
That's why her brother was certain he could make it blindfolded through just one lunch at a nice restaurant. Easier said than done.
“The good thing about doing this for me is it will help me be a better help for you,” Peter told his sister.
“Right, and I think it's a process for people who are visually impaired of getting used to going out and eating. And I'm at a point now where I have no shame in asking people to cut my food for me,” Rebecca said, explaining that she has long accepted the limitations of her disease.
“I'm not over it. I'm open about it and if you're able to become more comfortable with your circumstances, other people will become more comfortable with your circumstances,” she said.
Peter said the blindfold challenge gave him a deeper understanding of what life is like for his sister, but also left him feeling sad knowing his blindness was only temporary.
“I think that's sort of a natural experience for people, especially when you have someone that you love or who's a friend who has any type of disability,” Rebecca said.
Later, while talking about her brother's experience with the TODAY anchors, she said it was nice to actually guide someone else, since she's normally the one in need of assistance. When asked how she maintains such an upbeat attitude, Rebecca said it helps that she had years to prepare for her condition.
"I think I was fortunate to be born with a lot of energy, but if someone told you that you would be blind and deaf in five years, in four years, in 10 years, how might you live your life differently?" she said. "And I do feel that sense of urgency, but not the sense of urgency where I’m afraid or I feel scared, as much as like, I just want to do it. I want to experience it now, while I still can."