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Darkness opens students’ eyes to visual impairments

 

 

An immersion in total darkness is opening the eyes of Melbourne students and the general public to the challenges faced by those with vision impairments.

Dialogue in the Dark, presented in partnership with Guide Dogs Australia, is designed to test the audience’s senses and problem-solving skills as they move through a simulation of some of Melbourne’s best-known sites, aided by a guide who is blind or has low vision.

The experience is mapped to the Victorian Curriculum Levels 3 – 10 with tours specifically catering to school groups, as well as the public. It is designed to build emotional intelligence, empathy and audience skills of the participating students, all of whom receive a certificate of completion.

Participants are first outfitted with a white cane and instructed in its use at the start of the 60-minute tour, before being led by their visually-impaired guide into a setting that lets in no light. The guide offers instructions and prompts as participants feel their way through the simulated landscape, most taking hesitant first steps that grow in confidence.

The first Dialogue in the Dark experience opened in Germany in 1989, founded by the previous year by Andreas Heinecke, who had been asked to develop work training for a young journalist who had lost his eyesight. With no previous experience working with the disabled, Heinecke questioned how life could be lived fully with no vision and came to understand the prejudices that the sighted can hold.

He designed a whole-body experience for the fully sighted to be led through everyday life by the visually impaired, to experience a little of what their guides encounter. The social enterprise has been hosted in more than 40 countries and 132 cities since, and is now available at The District Docklands in Melbourne.

Karen Hayes, the CEO of Guide Dogs Victoria, led the way in bringing the immersive exhibition to Australia. She said it was a wonderful opportunity to offer meaningful job and social inclusion opportunities for people who are blind and vision impaired, while enabling the sighted community to take a walk in the shoes of someone with vision impairment.

“People can expect to feel exhilarated, empathetic and inspired as a result of this experience,” Ms Hayes said. “Together we have the power to create a lasting social impact on our prejudices of blindness as a result of what our guides can teach us.”

The second part of the experience is the dialogue, in which, still in complete darkness, participants discuss the experience and whatever interests them with their guides.

Melbourne guides reported many insightful and moving questions from students, including one from a student losing their sight rapidly who wanted to know what steps to take to prepare.

Guides range in ages from 21-55 years and are from all walks of life with one thing in common; the desire for independence, inclusion and gainful employment opportunities.

Guide Andrew Martin said the opportunity to educate the community on what it is like to be vision impaired is very special.

“We can show guests our experiences of everyday life and that being vision impaired is not the end of the world, he said”

Guide Maree Willis said Dialogue in the Dark provides education and allows people to walk in somebody else’s shoes for a short time.

“This experience can break down barriers and help with misconceptions about vision loss and its impact,” she said.

“We are just as capable as the sighted with the same life responsibilities.”

For more information visit www.dialogueinthedark.com.au