What would you do if you couldn’t see? How would your every day life be changed? We might think about this theoretically every now and then, but without being faced with the reality there is little consideration for the minutiae that we take for granted – grocery shopping, commuting to work, grabbing a cup of coffee. Everything is more complicated when you’re blind. We all know this, of course, but knowing it and experiencing it are two different things. Dialog in the Dark is an amazing way to “see” the world from a totally new perspective – as their tagline says, “You haven’t seen New York until you haven’t seen it.”
My friend and I stepped inside the building that houses the Bodies Exhibit and Dialog in the Dark by South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. The day was bright and sunny and we removed our sunglasses and blinked as our eyes adjusted to the dim light, considering how strange it would be to feel this change only through the change in the temperature. After entering a small, narrow room, we watched a brief video about the exhibit, after which the lights slowly lowered until it was pitch black. Everyone giggled nervously as we realized this was not the kind of dark our eyes would adjust to – with absolutely no source of light there was nothing for our eyes to use to make the adjustment. Our guide came in and introduced herself – all of the guides at Dialog in the Dark are visually impaired, making them the perfect people to lead you through this experience. After all, it is their reality every single day. After making some jokes to diffuse the nervousness we were all feeling, she had everyone introduce themselves, gave us some pointers on using our canes, and ushered us into the first part of the tour.
Even without sight, it didn’t take long for us to figure out that we were supposed to be in Central Park. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what gave it away first – the birds chirping, the smell of grass, the feeling of the path underfoot, the sound of a fountain nearby, but it was amazing to come to the conclusion without the benefit of sight. Our guide lead us through the experience, encouraging us to explore and touch things but be careful to always bend at the knees so that we didn’t hit our heads. We found bicycles, a fountain, a bridge, a bench, and a tree, bumping into one another all the while (as the guide told us, the word “sorry” is very important on this tour).
I don’t want to give away everything that happens on this tour because you should experience it for yourself, but over the course of the next hour we experienced what it is like to grocery shop with no vision (my friend and I took great pride in our skill at this, although it was much easier in the small simulated Fairway than it would be in an actual Fairway), board and ride the subway, and cross the street in Times Square. For me the most eye-opening (so to speak) part of the tour was the little things we encounter in our daily lives that don’t think twice about, that are actually critical to the visually impaired for living theirs. Perhaps the best part of the tour was at the end when our guide answered everyone’s questions about herself and her own experience living in New York as a blind person. She answered everyone’s questions cheerfully and honestly, even the personal ones.
While there was something really fun and cool about experiencing New York in a new way (I’ve lived here since I was born so I’m always looking for new ways to experience the city), as we stepped back into the sunlight and put on our sunglasses, we were filled with renewed appreciation for our vision, something we take for granted all too often. This experience is the perfect combination of entertaining and enlightening, and it’s not to be missed on your next visit!