October 24, 2010

My Experience With 'Dialogue in the Dark'

I recently went to an exhibit called Dialogue in the Dark with my co-workers. It is an exhibit which basically gives people with typical eye sight a taste of what it would be like to be visually impaired or blind. You are provided walking canes at the start of the tour. Then you are told to walk into this dim room softly lit by glowing white cubes which you sit on. A soothing female voice came on through an overhead speaker explaining what will take place. I was having trouble understanding what was said, and so one of the people I went with interpreted for me what was said. As she was signing, the light slowly dimmed until I could not see her or anything anymore. It was completely black.

Feelings of panic developed. 

Suddenly, a voice came out of nowhere. It was our guide, who is visually impaired himself. He said something about being our guide and how he will help lead us through different parts of the exhibit.

My first thought was, "How in the world would a severely-profoundly deaf person participate in something like this?" Would they rely on feeling a person's hands interpreting for them? Or would they blindly follow the others without being able to understand what is being said?

It was funny how the guide kept saying,  "Follow the sound of my voice." I could hear his voice, but I had no idea where the voice was coming from (often a problem for those with hearing loss). So I walked around until I bumped into something or someone. I knew that I was okay if I was around people.

I was really surprised at how calm I became. It was a little disorienting, yes, but not too bad. It helped to know that this was an exhibit, safe and planned out, and we had a guide. If I was out on my own with no guide it would have been terrifying. 

We went to different areas, such as a park (with sound effects, birds whistling, dogs barking, etc.), a grocery store, a boat, and a bar/lounge area. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to know exactly where I was just by feeling the objects around me. My sense of touch was heightened. I wanted to feel everything. I was also more cautious, trying not to hit anyone with my cane.

I often wandered away from the group. There were times where the guide would say, "Okay, follow me. Follow the sound of my voice." Usually, I tried to stay close to my group, but somehow I always end up walking away as I tried to follow the sound of his voice. When we were in the "bar/lounge" area, it was a challenge because of the loud background noises (chatter and music). I tried to once again follow the guide's voice and I ended up walking away from the group. I walked around in circles bumping into walls and chairs. It was awful. "Elizabeth?" I heard my group call out to me. I ended up at the entrance into the bar lounge area again. The "bartender" yelled out, "We have a bar fly here!" The guide came and rescued me, "Take my hand, Elizabeth. I am so sorry."

He led me back to my group who were all sitting at a booth waiting for me.

After this, the tour was over. We were told to walk straight and to follow the light. "Keep walking towards the light." I felt as if I was in a scene from a movie where someone dies and is "going to the light." It was an odd experience.

I was glad to be back out in the light; to be able to see again. I was so relieved.

It was an interesting experience. I learned a lot. I learned that I take my eye sight for granted. I learned how much harder it is for me to follow what is being said (if I can't see the speaker) and to understand where the sound source is coming from. I am useless when it comes to following the sound of someone's voice if I can't see anything. I also learned how quickly I adapt to my surroundings and how quickly I am able to understand where I am just by feeling.

I would recommend to someone to try this once.

I think it would be interesting to have a similar exhibit where people would go to get an idea of what it could possibly be like to be deaf or hard of hearing.

I wonder which exhibit people would feel the most comfortable in?



  1. One of my sisters spent the summer working at a camp for individuals with visual impairments. Some of the guests were also blind. She said that they had special interpreters that signed into the hands of the guests with both vision and hearing difficulties. She used a different word than "interpreter" for them, but I don't remember what it was.

  2. Check out "Dialogue in Silence", the sister exhibition to "Dialogue in Silence" - it's less well known but just as effective! I visited its venue near Hamburg and really enjoyed the tour. Fascinating to see its impact on the (hearing) teenagers in my group!

  3. There is an exhibit at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco called the Tactile Dome. It's also completely dark and you go through the exhibit feeling lots of different things. I want to go, but being hearing impaired, the thought is terrifying. I think I will go try it sometime when I have a friend to hold on to!


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