Yesterday I went with a friend to Dialogue in the Dark in Mei Foo; it was a 75 minute immersion in a sightless environment. After the drama of finding out about an attack in the morning, it was a welcome adventure. We arrived, were told to use the bathroom and put our belongings in a locker, then they gave us long white canes. They told us to put it a pace in front of ourselves, and sweep it side to side.
There were 7 people on our tour, and our guide asked us our names; once she recognized our voices she told us to follow hers.
We walked into a jungle. Or at least a place with grass and trees, which she told us were real. Then a pebbled surface, then we crossed a shaking bridge over a stream.
As we walked we discussed our other senses, what we imagined it looked like, why it smelled that way, where we were going. We boarded a ferry, feeling life preservers on the wall. We felt our way towards seats in a bench, then felt the ocean breeze as we crossed the harbor. We walked the gang plank to a street, crossed the street–zigzagging for lack of sight–to the sound of the clicks from the crosswalk. We felt fruits in a market (the potatoes were a bit soft), found our seats in a cinema, listened to a soundtrack of a short film, and ended in a cafe, where we exchanged money we couldn’t see for beverages we could only taste.
I spent much of the time hitting people in the ankles with my stick, and running into people as they felt their way along a wall, and trying to help guide people with words and voice. A couple times I helped my compatriots find hand rails, and was helped myself. Our guide asked what we thought things were, and I was wrong half the time, but sometimes you can tell. I could probably recognize people on my tour if they spoke, but I don’t remember their faces. I couldn’t put a face to a voice. It was interesting to share the time in the dark with a person I knew well and people I didn’t know at all. It is enlightening, embarrassing, and empowering all in one.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The experience is all about the participants, making sure we understand what it’s like, trying to get us to reflect on the things we learn. If you go, come with a willingness to speak and also make mistakes.
Our guide was open about her own blindness (10% sighted, she lost it when she was 11); she encouraged us to ask her questions and wanted us to be comfortable and understand her experiences. I was thoroughly impressed.