Helping the Seeing Public Understand How the Blind Experience the World

by Eric Daniels

Imagine trying to navigate your way through the pitch black. Your eyes do not adjust to this darkness. Try as you might, you cannot identify even the smallest sliver of light.

You are given a cane and told to move it in front of you back and forth. Your cane hits something that, from its sound, you believe to be a metal gate. You take each step cautiously as you are afraid that you are going to smash into something.

Your hand reaches out into the darkness and finds a solid object. Is it a tree, a post, or something else entirely? The sounds and smells tell you that you are around a market. You rummage around and find your hand on what you believe is an onion. You can’t tell its color, but you can feel its layered peels.

You are scared, frustrated, and hungry. You put hand in your pocket and feel that you have coins, but you don’t know if you have enough to even buy a cup of coffee. You reach out to pay for your coffee purchase only to be told that you have given an insufficient amount of money.

Helping the Seeing Public Become More Aware of the Challenges the Blind Face

The previous experience does not describe the challenges that a newly blind individual faces, but it describes an experience that visitors to Hackney East London can have. Dialogue in the Dark is a studio space that has been redesigned to have the feel, smell, and energy of a real neighborhood.

Twenty-seven years ago, Dr. Andreas Heinecke set up Dialogue in the Dark after he tried to train a new blind journalist who was working with the radio station he was at. During the training process, the doctor realizes just how little he understood what it meant to be blind.

Now, this project is in more than 40 countries around the globe. The purpose is to help the seeing community become aware of the challenges that blind people face. However, the purpose of this project goes well beyond that. It is also designed to give employment opportunities to the blind and those who only have partial sight.

What Visitors to Dialogue in the Dark Experience

Most people are terrified by the idea of losing their vision. Many polls show that when people are asked what sense they fear to lose the most, vision ranks number one.

When a person visits Dialogue in the Dark, they are given a cane. They are also given a guide, who is a blind individual. They help visitors find their way through this darkened landscape. It can be disorientating for people when they first undertake this experience.

Many people leave this project wanting to know what they can do to design a better world for people who cannot see. They want more inclusion and the creation of a more forward-thinking society. Some have commented that after going through this experience, they want to design daily life to make it so that it’s accessible to everyone.

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