- The only way to learn is by encounter
This Thanksgiving weekend was made even more special (aside from my sister and her
family's presence) by our visit to an unusual exhibition called Dialogue In the Dark at Atlantic Station in midtown Atlanta.
The hour long experience offers the public "an experience that can change mindsets on disability and diversity, and increase tolerance."
Blind guides lead visitors in small groups through different settings in total darkness where they learn how to interact without sight by using their other senses.
At the beginning of the exhibit - after removing anything that could emit light like watches and cellphones - our small group was taken into a room where we sat on lighted cubes on the floor. We had been given canes and a brief lesson on how to use them. Then the light in the cubes was gradually dimmed until we were left in pitch black and the exhibition began.
We went through a garden where we could hear birdsong, touch grass and plants. We went to a store where we felt bread and coconuts and other produce. During the city scene we heard cars and experienced crossing a street with a cane - it was an unnerving and disorienting experience.
But the amazing thing was that the guides - who were blind - would make sure we were all together and safe. They encouraged us along.
It was as though they could see.
The final room was a bar. We bought drinks in the dark. Before we went in they told us: take only two $1 bills. You hand over the money in the dark and are given change. If we hadn't had the single bills there is no way we could know what money to give.
My mother is blind and it helped me to see that blind people can enjoy themselves. One sense is cut but you have four others. I got a heightened awareness of sound, touch and the other senses. I never knew what the bar looked like but I felt the counter and saw the seats we were sitting on in my mind. If anything, I got a sense of peace.
At the beginning of the exhibition it was frightening, but by the end I felt kinship with the other people in our group and new found respect for the guides.
Even so, being blind is hard.
At the end of the "Dialogue" you go into a transition room where the lights come on gradually. It was good to see the light again. The hour had flown past but it was unforgettable.