Understanding Physical Challenges through Dialogue in the Dark

dialogue in the dark

This quarter, I am taking a class called Rethinking Diversity. There are students from all walks of life in this class and I have gotten to know tidbits about what makes each of us different. Rethinking Diversity takes a look at various forms of oppression that people face; whether it be through race, diversity, gender or wealth. We try to understand the oppressions and think of pragmatic solutions for each.

This past week we’ve been studying able-ism – areas where disabilities can affect a person’s chances of being as successful as a person without physical or mental challenges. There might be instances in their life that interfere or hold them back, and the limitations in public education don’t help them either (but that is a different discussion).

Braille at dialogue in the dark

Us able-bodied and minded people may have a hard time understand their challenges and how we can help. It’s hard to make changes when you don’t know how to make them accessible and adaptable. Through this class, I’ve learned that the best way to start is to hear different stories of failure and success that have set precedence, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and discuss ideas to make it better.

On my daily bus ride to class a thought clicked in my mind from a previous situation similar to what we were discussing in class. When I lived in Germany I was taken to the Dialogue in the Dark Exhibition and Workshop in Frankfurt for my birthday. I’m not big into museums, so I wasn’t excited about the idea at first. But Dialogue in the Dark has a different way to communicate with visitors than typical artwork and exhibits. It really pushes your boundaries and mindset.

Imagine being given a walking cane and told to walk into a pitch-dark room. It turns out we would be guided by a blind person and be taught how to handle daily situations from their position. My guide could speak English and also visited family in Seattle before, so we connected well through that. He taught me how to use the stick to walk through forest pathways with birds chirping around us, across streets, and into stores. I used my sense of touch to decipher coins to buy drinks with and find building walls and trees. The sounds were recordings and we were inside the museum instead of out in the busy world. But all of the props felt like the real objects. In fact, cutting off my sense of sight heightened my other senses. The dirt was soft under my feet, the levels between the street and the curb were tricky to navigate, and we had to feel for miniscule details in the coins

dialogue in the dark

If they threw us out onto the streets of Frankfurt with a blindfold and walking cane, I would surely get run over within the first five minutes of trying. I gained a lot of respect for my tour guide and those with disabilities in general. I only experienced a fraction of what he deals with on a daily basis and I could barely function. Granted, he has been navigating like this out in the real world for years, so it isn’t hard for him anymore like it was for me. Imagine how people with physical and mental challenges handle it when they are expected to learn what able-bodied and minded people learn and also learn even more on top of that. In one of the class readings, the writer talked about how some disabled students sometimes have to miss normal school classes to go to physical therapy sessions and end up getting behind in school. Dialogue in the Dark allowed me to safely ask my guide questions about his story, what he deals with, and take away a lesson from it. I have honestly never experienced a similar project before, although I hope similar ideas will pop up more often.

The special part was at the end of the tour. My guide found out it was my birthday and decided to come out of the dark area to say goodbye. Normally, the guides do not do this because they feel the visitors will go back to seeing them differently. It touched me that he stepped out of his comfort zone to do that. Dialogue in the Dark was a step out of my comfort zone to experience, but in that moment we were equals and parted as friends.

Dialogue in the Dark has multiple locations throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Check their website to see if there are any locations near you!