2015年5月5日星期二

Dialogue in the Dark, Hamburg

This May Day, I went to this museum called Dialogue in the Dark in Hamburg, Germany. Here, "visitors are
led by blind guides through a specially constructed and completely darkened space. Conveying characteristics of a familiar environment such as a park, a street or a bar, a daily routine turns into a new experience." This was not my idea but I have always been open to understand different lives. I went with 8 other people in a group who I just met that very day; it was a trust building experience with them as well as with our guide. I just started learning German so our group had an English-speaking guide, who went by the name Ray. He "showed" us his "car," which we had to guess the brand; his "door," where we had to find the doorbell; as well as his "boat," all simulated in the dark.

image from internet

In the end we chatted at the “cafe." He helped us identifying the coins and paying for the drinks and snacks. He could see 7%, has traveled overseas, and enjoys Chinese martial art films. He also learned Taekwondo as a hobby. He is  enrolled in university and uses learning aid (I have seen a couple of visually impaired students guided only by walking sticks at my own university campus as well). At one point he said that his parents were Turkish. This struck me that I was assuming he was German all the time and it revealed a lot about the differences in epistemology. So I asked how do visually impaired people judge others if they cannot see their appearances. Ray said that people like him usually respond positively to sounds that are warm and enthusiastic, which was exactly his kind of speech.

When it was time to say goodbye, I asked if we could see what he looked like. Ray joked that if we see anyone who looks like Johnny 
Depp it would be him. But in the end he wanted us to remember him as a blind person would remember a new person, and we did not see him. I shook hands with him instead.

I looked up his full name "Rasim" means the one who draws. It reminds me of this visually impaired artist John Bramblitt who painted extraordinary paintings with the help of other senses.

I expected to understand the experience of the blind and visually impaired. As a student of social sciences, we work with categories, such as class or race. The same applied for people with disabilities. But this experience showed that people are not defined exclusively by their most salient feature. It is a cliche to list the achievements that blind people have accomplished, but after this time, I realized that it is so true that one should not judge anyone based on their disability. After spending 90 min in the dark with simulated environments and a walking stick, I understood myself better. I am that I am. Even visual disability cannot change certain aspects of myself. This is not to say that gender, class, and race does not matter--Being from an educated family helps. I could imagine sexual assault would also be more of an issue for women-identifying visual impaired than the men. (See film "Night on Earth") Still, disability is only one aspect and does not decide one's life once and for all.