A Dialogue in the Dark
I had decided to join a group on a guided tour through a museum that functions vise versa to the regular ones: here the exhibits are invisible; they only become apparent to the touch. The guide cannot rely on his eye-sight, he has been blind since childhood. Still he convinces me that I will be safe in his care these next 90 minutes of absolute darkness. For more reassurance, he takes my hand and strokes it softly. I am surrounded by a merciless sea of black. No ray of light gives away where I am.
Although I had braced myself for not seeing, I had not anticipated the tricks my hearing were to play on me once sightless. Within seconds, my sense of orientation is extinguished as well. A group member, who bravely pats his way along walls covered with a wealth of different materials, is always much closer than expected. We collide frequently. With my long white fibreglass cane I helplessly poke holes into the air or into the constantly changing texture or topography of the floor, while trying to cope with the geography.
We hear birds singing, wind howling, traffic noise with cars hooting; we are exposed to dramatic music and virtually feel the thundering bass vibrating through our chests. An unexpected soft breeze drifts over from the ‘river Main’, we ‘cross’ imaginary roads and bridges. The sounds seem out of control, bouncing from side to side, their proximity causing enormous irritation. Somehow we aim through wicked door frames between rooms, after repeatedly bumping into innumerable obstacles over again. We touch – and try to identify – surfaces like bark, plaster, cloth of varying character, bamboo, cool steel and something disconcertingly soft to the touch. ‘A dead mouse!’, someone shrieks in horror.
The DialogMuseum in Frankfurt has a vision: to stimulate the public’s awareness and tolerance level for all handicapped and to help integrate them as equal members of our society. Rare workplaces are offered here for the socially disadvantaged, whose amazing hidden potential becomes obvious to anyone visiting.
This environment might lend a special quality to the business trainings and workshops held at the premises (max. 14 persons). The large lobby serves as a venue for corporate events outside opening hours. http://dialogmuseum.de
It is the guide’s calming voice that safely navigates us through this unsettling landscape. He always senses where we are – even addresses us individually! – and makes sure to frequently hug the most desperate participant for comfort. We are relieved to reach the last stop, the ‘Bar in the Dark’, enjoy a sip of Prosecco and briefly discuss the excursion we had just mastered. We all agree that our sense of time had abandoned us. How can this expedition have taken 90 minutes? It seemed like 20, or even less.
The tour is coming to an end and the group quickly regains their confidence at the first shred of light – whereas our guide becomes quieter and finally falls silent. For one-and-a-half hours he had traded places with us. For 90 minutes in darkness it was him to see for us. Light can be a friend – or a foe.
TED Talk: Design with the blind in mind
Chris Downey is an architect, planner and consultant who lost his eye-sight in 2008. Working with design teams and clients as a seasoned architect without sight, he helps to realize environments offering greater physical accessibility and even delight in architecture experienced through other senses. One of the few practicing blind architects in the world, Downey has been featured in many media stories and he speaks regularly about visual impairments and architectural design.
In this talk he describes his life in San Francisco ‘before and after’ and demonstrates, how deliberate designs might make everyone’s life better, sighted or not.
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Photo “Dialog im Dunklen”: copyright Dialogmuseum
Copyright heade: Christina Feyerke