Have you ever wanted to experience what it’s like to be blind? To have your sense of vision taken away leaving you in a world of pitch black? To be plunged into real life situations without your sense of vision to guide you? We recently had that experience after visiting the Dialogue in the Dark exhibit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was frightening, difficult, and in the end an “eye opening” experience that will be remembered for the rest of our lives.
Before entering the world of the blind we were asked to leave our backpack, watch, and to Kerri’s surprise, her eyeglasses in a secure locker. We were then handed canes commonly used by the blind and shown how to use them. Our guide Jeff, who has been blind since birth, guided us into the dark maze and soon we were immersed in pure blackness. Having your sense of vision taken away from you can be a little shocking and scary. Our 9-year old daughter, Sydney, was complaining that her eyes would not adjust to the darkness. We had to assure her that she was fine and that this was the purpose of this exhibit, to experience blindness.
Jeff guided us deeper into the maze and told us that we were going to a park. We followed his voice and soon we could hear birds singing and a waterfall in the distance. We felt our way along a fence while hearing the crunch of gravel under our feet and searched for a park bench that Jeff assured us was there somewhere. After finding the bench we then had to search for a small bridge to cross a stream and went to a street market. At the market we had to feel the produce and try to find certain items. After the market we went in search of an ATM and ran into an obstruction on the sidewalk. We had to try to identify the obstruction, which turned out to be a motorbike, and then had to get the plate number so that we could report it. Once around the obstruction we found the ATM and Jeff told us that blind people would need to memorize the procedure to withdraw money, but with the modern touchscreens you will need a trusted person that can assist you withdraw money. We next had to find a crosswalk with an audible signal to cross the street. After reaching the other side we searched for a coffee shop where we ordered hot coffee and tea. When our order arrived at the counter we had to pay for them with vouchers that were given to us before entering and then made our way across the café to find a table. Once at the table we enjoyed our drinks while talking with our guide about growing up blind in Malaysia. His story was very inspirational and goes to show that nobody should let disabilities or problems in their life become a barrier.
The whole experience of Dialogue in the Dark lasted 45 minutes and was an experience I will never forget. When first entering the maze I was lost. But after discovering each new item within the exhibit I could visualize what the object and environment looked like and created a map in my mind of where everything was located spatially.
After experiencing Dialogue in the Dark I have a new appreciation for infrastructure designed to aid sight-impaired people. From truncated domes on sidewalks, to audible crosswalks, to even something as simple as an obstruction-free sidewalk, anything that can help guide you through a pitch-black world is a godsend.
If you get a chance to experience Dialogue in the Dark, I highly recommend it. http://www.dialogue-in-the-dark.com/