I first heard of Dialogue in the Dark (DID) many years ago, after seeing an advertisement about it on a wall somewhere near my workplace. Eager to find something new to do on weekends, I quickly jotted down the details. Back then, it was in The Weld Kuala Lumpur*.
*Currently, they have rebranded themselves as Dialogue Includes All and have relocated to Strand Mall, Kota Damansara.
As a side note, in 2019, I had experienced a wonderful “blackout dinner” at Dining in the Dark, Kuala Lumpur. Motivated by that positive experience, I knew that I had to try DID as well, although to be honest, I had no idea what it was.
Is it some kind of forum or debate? A group discussion? I hoped not. I’m social phobic, and anything that suggests ‘conversation’ makes my stomach flip a little.
What is Dialogue in the Dark?
Dialogue in the Dark was founded in 1988 in Germany, after a journalist at a radio station was asked to develop a rehabilitation program for his blind colleague.
This task made him realize the difficulties faced by a blind person on a daily basis, and led him to create an exhibition called “Dialogue in the Dark”.
Quite unexpectedly, the exhibition received an overwhelming response from the public, and has since been presented in more than 180 cities in 40 countries. Dialogue in the Dark currently operates over 20 permanent exhibitions all around the world.
In Malaysia, DID was initiated in 2012 by Mr Stevens Chan, a successful business consultant who lost his eyesight to glaucoma.
The concept of Dialogue in the Dark is actually pretty simple. It is a tour carried out in specially constructed dark rooms, where scent, sound, wind, temperature, and texture are used to replicate daily environments, such as a park, a city, or a restaurant.
Similar to Dining in the Dark that I had experienced before, visitors are led by professionally trained visually-impaired guides.
A reversal of roles is therefore created: people who are sighted are taken out of their familiar environment and put in the hands of visually-impaired people, who will be the ones providing security and a sense of orientation.
Vision & Mission
The mission of Dialogue in the Dark is to raise awareness and facilitate social inclusion of marginalized people. Right now, there is still a barrier between the blind and the sighted. It is their goal to overcome that.
In addition, Dialogue in the Dark also aims to create jobs and training for disadvantaged people by turning their deficits into potential, as well as increasing their self-esteem.
My Experience at Dialogue in the Dark
I went to the one in The Weld Kuala Lumpur. Just one floor down from the main entrance, I saw an outlet with glass doors and a large red wall inside, bearing the name “Dialogue in the Dark”, written in Chinese, English, and Braille.
The spacious foyer was dimly lit and rather sparse, with only a bench in one corner. I suppose the sparseness had a purpose — to make it easier for the blind people to move about without too many obstacles blocking their way.
On the right, there was a small cafe selling a variety of drinks, desserts, and snacks. Off to one side, there was a standee displaying Braille postcards and greeting cards for sale.
I hadn’t even started the tour yet and this place was already making me stop and think. All this while, it had never crossed my mind how blind people are denied the simple joy of receiving greeting cards on their special days.
It’s just one of those little things that we take for granted.
By then, I was already being attended to by a staff member called Faris. He gave me a little briefing about the place and what to expect during the dark tour.
One of the reminders he gave me was to always use my voice for communicating or addressing any concern. I must not use any visual cues, such as raising my hand to draw attention or nodding my head to indicate agreement.
This is common sense, of course, but for those of us who are so used to being able to see, such a reminder may be necessary.
After I kept all my stuff in the locker, Faris led me to a doorway, ominously marked ‘The Dark Tour’.
The Dark Tour
In semi-darkness, I was handed a walking stick — the white kind that blind people use. Faris showed me how to use it to detect obstacles in my path. And that was all the lesson I got. After that, I was led past a blackout curtain into pure darkness.
Mind you, this is not the kind of darkness you can get at home, where you can still see vague shapes of things once your eyes have adjusted to it.
Nope. In this dark tour, there is not even one tiny speck of light. You DO NOT see anything at all. There’s no need for a blindfold.
All you have are your walking stick and your other senses.
Faris then handed me over to my tour guide, who introduced himself as Shafiri. Using only his voice, Shafiri guided me through a simple obstacle course that was created to mimic everyday situations.
Throughout the tour, your guide will not be holding your hand or touching you in any way. You’re going to find your way using your own faculties and your guide’s verbal instructions.
If this sounds scary, let me assure you that it is not. The guides are specially trained to keep you safe. They will go at your pace, slowing down and stopping whenever you need to.
Best of all, everything is done in a casual manner. There is plenty of chit chat and laughter.
I was particularly amazed at how skilled my guide was. At one point, I wondered aloud how he was able to tell my exact location even without me having to utter a sound.
I was beginning to think that he was actually a sighted person who was wearing some kind of night-vision goggles to see me.
During the 1-hour tour, we stopped at four different ‘destinations’, and at each one, there was a task for me to perform. One of them was to draw something on a blank postcard. I chose to draw a portrait of Shafiri, or how I imagined him to look like.
The other tasks were just as fun and challenging. I wish I could write them all, but part of the appeal of Dialogue in the Dark is the surprise element in it, so I shall stop here and leave the rest for you to find out for yourself.
At the end of the tour, we went back into the light and for the first time, I could see my guide. He was not wearing any night-vision goggles. He was totally blind.
We sat down and did a little unpacking of what we had just gone through.
I had never personally known a blind person before, so I had plenty to ask. One of the questions I asked was whether it was rude to use the word ‘blind’ and if there was any particular term he preferred.
He said, personally, he preferred the word ‘blind’ because he didn’t like to beat around the bush. Using euphemisms such as ‘visually-impaired’ only suggests that being blind is something to be embarrassed about. But he understood that other people might have different opinions.
When asked about the biggest challenge he ever faced in this line of work, he recalled the time when he had to guide a deaf person on the dark tour.
I can’t even imagine what that must be like. If you ever get Shafiri as your guide, ask him to tell you the story.
The main reason that got me so interested in learning about the world of the blind is the fact that I’m a visually-oriented person. I learn best by seeing things. Most of the things that I enjoy doing — such as reading, writing, drawing, and traveling — would be almost impossible without eyesight.
One day, I started to wonder how my life would be like without it. Would I still consider my life worth living? Would I be able to cope?
The Dark Tour at Dialogue in the Dark gave me a glimpse into what it’s like to live without light. It brought to my attention things that would never have crossed my mind had I not experienced them first-hand.
In both Dialogue in the Dark and Dining in the Dark, I think I did pretty well, if I may say so myself. But I know that these little ‘games’ are a far cry from the kind of difficulties that blind people have to face every day.
I would highly recommend this thought-provoking experience to anyone. It will take you out of your comfort zone, force you to be humble, and change your perspectives for a lifetime.
Lot S-37, Level 2,
Strand Mall, Kota Damansara.
Just to the left of BuyBye (turn right into the corridor after BuyBye).
Have you ever experienced being in a complete darkness? Is this something you’d like to try? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.