Last week at this time I was with Mr. Kersten’s freshman Humanities in Action class at Dialogue in the Dark in Hong Kong. There we were led by someone who is blind - our guide was Andrew - through a completely dark simulation of Hong Kong.
In my small group of six people we walked through a park, through an intersection to a store, past recycle bins and a car, onto a boat for a boat ride, then to a theater, and finally to a cafe where we could order a drink and take it to our table. It all sounds so simple. Or maybe it sounds too hard. I don’t know which. But we were given a white cane and a guide to take us through the experience kindly.
What I learned that I thought I knew already: It’s dark in the dark! You have to use other senses like touch and hearing more. The cane is helpful for letting you know where to go. The beeping sound in the crosswalk is for the blind to know when to cross. The corrugated tiles indicate where you are on the sidewalk.
What I learned that I didn’t already know: You can tell where people are in relation to you, just by their voice. You can tell if they are standing or seated. It’s easy to bump into someone even if you have the cane. You can tell where you are by a combination of sensations (grass under your feet, birds singing, gentle breeze, people talking in the distance). You can tell which way you are going when you are on a boat, due to the direction of the wind. Hearing a movie sparks your imagination. You can give and receive money fairly easily when purchasing. You can easily drink from a bottle without spilling. You can keep your balance on something rickety. You can tell which fruit is which just by touch and smell and size. You can identify objects by touch - like a life preserver, a car, a bicycle, or a rope. You can feel the presence of others and enjoy conversation, no differently from the sighted. You can hear the landscape change - like going from a street to grass.
We spent 67 minutes in the dark with Andrew. He always would ask where each of us was and then he knew where we were and where we were in relation to our surroundings. For example, he warned me about a wastebasket nearby. When we finished, he entertained questions in the light. We could see him, but he was still living in the dark. Amazing.