Approximately seven million people in the United States are blind or visually impaired.* Unlike the sighted, who rely on their eyes to process 80% of the world, these individuals are forced to rely on their other key senses; many so astutely that they seem extrasensory.
It’s hard for us (the sighted) to imagine their struggles, but an exhibit found in Atlanta gave us just a taste of their world. The exhibit, called Dialogue in the Dark, seeks to educate individuals on the challenges the visually impaired face each day, and did so almost perfectly, and completely positively.
When we arrived, we had to put all our belongings in a locker as we were told the light of cell phones and other electronic devices could ruin the whole experience. We were then given white canes with bright red tips, received quick training in how to use them, and were ushered into a dark room with lighted white cubes for seats. After a few moments the room slowly faded to black… Pitch black.
At that moment (at our most vulnerable, as newly non-sighted citizens), we were introduced to our blind tour guide, James. He guided us gingerly into the first room using only verbal instruction and a bit of thoughtful, and not so subtle, guidance if we were close enough for him to grab.
It soon became clear that we were at a busy street corner. The scene came complete with sound effects, street signs (that we could only feel), a car that Kimmer rammed his knee into, a metal bench, tin garbage cans and a soft curb of grass. The reality of the situation is that, if this were our first day of blindness, it might have been our last – a car almost certainly would have flattened us.
James led us into a grocery store, on a simulated boat ride and a fully functioning bar with bartender where we ordered a soda, and paid, in complete darkness. It was at the bar that we were finally able to have a seat and talk to our guide.
James revealed he had lost his sight in a motorcycle accident almost a decade earlier. He explained that while his doctors believed he lost his sight at the moment of the accident. He disagreed. His family and friends told him that he recognized them when they arrived at the hospital following the accident. But he soon fell into a coma and when he came out two months later he had no vision at all. James believes he may have had a stroke while in the coma and lost his sight at that time.
He was very motivated to be on his own again, believed in himself and learned quickly about his new life without vision. Within six months, he was on his own, and since the accident, he has married and fathered three kids – none of which he has ever seen.
Often these “touristy” exhibits (it’s currently partnered in the same building with the controversial “Bodies” exhibit) are just that – “touristy”, this was exceptional and well worth the price. Learn more here.
*American Foundation for the Blind website