Several years ago, there was an event that showed up on Groupon. It was called “Dialog in the Dark”. It was supposed to give normal, seeing people an insight into the life of the blind. My curiosity was piqued!
As a child, I often saw blind people walking around with their red and white canes tap-tapping on the ground, judging obstacles or traffic. I’d come home and mimic them, eyes closed, stubbing toes and bruising knees as I stumbled through the house trying to feel my way through an unseeing life. So when this deal popped up, I was super excited! Deal or no deal, I would have bought tickets.
The concept is pretty straightforward and very grounding. It involves a blind guide leading groups of people with eyesight, through various rooms that are pitch black. The experiences engage all non-visual and often ignored senses like sound, smell and touch and make them work overtime. The most important sense of “trust” is definitely put to test. I quickly realized that trusting the people around you is not as easy when you can’t see their face. It’s like the trust game where you fall backward and expect your partner to catch you, except imagine doing this your whole life. Trusting people to help you becomes not only relevant but practically unavoidable.
To begin the tour, we were all admitted into this room with lighted cuboid stools that we all sat on while our blind guide gave us instructions. He looked so at ease doing this, being blinded since the age of 7 probably gave him skills we don’t even know of to appreciate. We were to rely on the other people in front or behind us, we were to use our canes to feel around us, we were to speak up and ask questions if we needed help or guidance. Each of us were then given a cane and then the room plunged into darkness. I have a pretty large personal space radius, so I was already regretting this. Touching, let alone holding onto a stranger was not sitting well with me. What exactly was I expecting when I signed up for this?! But as I stood in the dark room, something odd happened. All of us, I think there were maybe 12-15, started slowly shuffling forward, straining to hear the guide’s voice which was already starting to fade. Sense #2 – sound activated! Don’t want to be left behind in the dark! What if noone finds me ever!
The tour lasted an hour. During this time, our guide patiently took us through talking, explaining, making light of the situation. One room mimicked a garden – we could hear birds chirp, we had to cross a small bridge with water flowing under it, smell flowers. Another room required us to rely on our touch skills. We were asked to use our fingers to trace out and read house numbers, identify commonly used items in the house or kitchen like alarm clocks, vases, trivets and ladles. There was a lot of walking, with the guide telling us to actively use our canes to judge distance from the person in front of us, judge terrain, hold hands if needed. This was all foreign and unwelcome and despite my eyes being wide open (I couldn’t close them even though I could see nothing), I had the full experience of a visually impaired person. By the time we walked back into the room we first started in, my respect for the blind had grown several times over. I cannot imagine living without the one sense I take for granted day in and day out, expecting it to serve me at my behest.
Today when I see the visually impaired navigate through the grocery aisles or go to an Apple store to buy the latest device, I don’t wonder how they do it. I KNOW now how and while I suck at it because I still have my gift of sight, I no longer pity them. There is immense respect and a sense of pride about how these folks choose to live their lives independently and as close to normal as possible.
Dialog In the Dark is going strong even today and has branched out into 39 countries. Here is the link, in case anyone is interested in learning more.