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Dialog In the Dark

11 Jun

Last Friday afternoon in New York City, something terrifying happened.

I lost my vision.

I was walking through Central Park on a Friday afternoon when I became so blinded I couldn’t see my own hands in front of my face.

I tried uncovering my face from my hands, but still, I couldn’t see . . .

In pitch darkness with my arms stretched out like Frankenstein, I fumbled my way through a swarm of people. For nearly an hour, I groped everything in my path, including a newspaper stand, a mailbox, and a hot dog vendor (at least I think he was selling hot dogs).

Forced to rely on my other senses to compensate for my lack of vision, I became increasingly attuned to the scents, sounds, textures and temperatures around me. I knew instantly, for example, when my path underfoot changed from cobblestone to gravel, to someone else’s foot . . .

I attempted to make out the sounds: the trickling of a waterfall, the whoosh of a city bus, and the helpless screams of a tourist getting mugged . . .

Fortunately, the sounds I heard were manufactured, and the obstacles I felt were props, all part of a simulated exhibit at South Street Seaport called “Dialog in the Dark.”

The experiential exhibit allowed my family and about a half dozen others on the 4:00 pm tour to temporarily experience what it’s like to be visually impaired. Our vision would be fully restored as soon as the lights were turned on.

We relied on our partially blind guide, Ken, to lead us through the exhibit that takes visitors through a variety of simulated city environments, including the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, in total darkness.

Ken deftly took us through a series of New York City spaces and managed to calmly guide us nervous first-timers using only his voice.

We were each provided with an authentic walking cane, which we swung like a pendulum across the ground.  The canes helped us navigate when we weren’t tripping one another.

I followed Ken’s voice from fake Central Park to the mock grocery store where he challenged us to explore our surroundings.  He asked, “Did you find the refrigerated section?”

“I found a carton of milk,” my son replied.

“1% or 2%?” quipped Ken.

“Anyone find the produce section yet?” Ken asked.

“I think I found a basket of fruit,” I said, running my hands over a textured surface and suddenly recoiling my hand in pain. “Er, a pineapple . . .”

Next we took a simulated subway, where just like on the real subway, I couldn’t find a seat.  When we arrived at “Lexington Avenue,” Ken warned us of stairs ahead.

“Stairs? You’ve got to be kidding me,” I mumbled. I suddenly understood why we were required to sign a waiver. Piercing by pineapple looked to be the least of my worries.

“Chris!” I called for my husband. “Can you hold my hand?”

A warm hand closed over mine and suddenly I felt safe.

“Lisa, would you like me to help you find your husband?” Ken’s voice rang out next to me. I dropped his hand like a hot potato.

“Sorry, Ken. Uh, no, I’m fine thanks.”

I took a deep breath and inched my way down the steps slower than a pack mule descending the Grand Canyon.

After we had all safely reached the bottom of the stairs and navigated our way down the hallway we entered a pleasantly scented room. “What do you smell?” asked Ken.

“Coffee!” we answered in unison.

“Starbucks!” my kids cried out, inhaling the aroma of fresh java artificially piped into the mock café. We fumbled our way into an actual booth and sat together, calm and relaxed for the first time in an hour.

Ken answered our questions about what it’s like to be visually impaired. My daughter asked him how he matches his clothes, and he told us about a clothes-matching app for the visually impaired. The lights flickered on. I glanced at my son wearing a red plaid shirt and green-checkered shorts. I made a mental note to buy him the app.

I left the exhibit with a renewed respect for the visually impaired. I vowed I would never take my sight for granted, whether I was picking out pineapples, matching my clothing, negotiating stairs . . . or, holding hands with a stranger.

Looking for things to do with kids in New York City? Check out Dialog in the Dark and its neighboring exhibit at South Street Seaport, the Bodies Exhibit showcasing preserved human bodies dissected to display bodily systems.

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Photo Credit: Daniella Zalcman, The Wall Street Journal

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40 Responses to “Dialog In the Dark”

  1. Paprika Furstenburg June 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Fascinating! I didn’t know about this exhibit, but it sounds like an amazing experience. It’s dificult enough to navigate the crowded streets of Manhattan and its assorted puddles of unidentified liquids when sighted. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be to do it with a visual impairment. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. The Laughing Mom June 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    That’s a great idea for an exhibit and creating a greater understanding of the blind. I lived by the school for the blind in NYC and I was always fascinated at how the seeing-impaired made their way through such a huge city. It’s really amazing.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      That must have been an interesting place to live. I live near a seeing eye dog facility, and it’s always heartwarming to see people who are dedicated to helping train service dogs.

  3. mysending June 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    I didn’t know about this! Thanks for publicizing it in such a personal way. There’s a theatre troupe and center in Tel Aviv that does this, too. http://www.nalagaat.org.il/home.php

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

      My pleasure, and thanks for sharing the interesting link. My daughter studied in Israel last year and attended Dialog in the Dark in Tel Aviv. All of the students thought it was a fantastic experience.

  4. cindyricksgers June 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    Thank you for this! What a great idea. It changes “I can’t imagine…” to an actual experience. Were the children quicker to adapt/less afraid? A very thought provoking post. Thanks!

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      My pleasure, Cindy. I think I was more frightened than my kids! One couple brought a six year old who I thought handled it remarkably well. It’s a great experience for all ages.

  5. earthriderjudyberman June 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    I was really scared for you as you began to describe your experience. I was relieved to find out it was only temporary and not real. This certainly would give people a feel for what it is like to lose a very important sense. Lisa, your descriptive writing really helped me “see” what you were going thru.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      Thanks for your concern, Judy. Fortunately it was only an exercise. And it truly did make me appreciate all of my senses. Glad the piece helped you experience it vicariously.

  6. Carl D'Agostino June 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    More people should have an experience like this or similar like spending a week in a wheel chair. Makes you appreciative of your own well being and sensitive of the plight of others. Also makes you kick yourself when you have the” poor me’s” .

  7. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer June 11, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Sometimes I go through the day feeling so grateful for being alive and being healthy, with my senses in tact. What an interesting experiment you had.

    To respond to Ken’s question, “how DO you tell 1% from 2% milk?” Is there an app for that, to?

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      I think it’s wonderful that you feel gratitude and don’t take your health for granted. Experiences like the one I had may be contrived but they can be a good wake up call. To answer your question, I don’t know. But there is some amazingly progressive technology out there now that helps the blind in many ways.

  8. Perfecting Motherhood June 11, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    What a great exhibit and experience! Sight is one sense I’d hate to lose. I’d rather spend the rest of my life not being able to hear or talk than not to see and observe nature’s beauty. Do you know if this is a traveling exhibit or is it will stay in NYC only?

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      Yes, I “hear” you! To answer your question, the venues are worldwide, but I don’t know how long it will remain in NYC.

  9. sportsattitudes June 12, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    I was not aware such an exhibit was in existence. The things we take for granted. Thanks for this reminder/wake-up call. You often see things in a different way after reading about insightful experiences like this.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      I’m a big believer in experiential learning. I wish there were more exhibits like this one. As frightening as it was, it was truly eye opening. (No pun intended).

  10. susan sheldon nolen June 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by and liking my post! I’m looking forward to reading yours and I loved your about me page!

  11. Maxi June 12, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    You did a great job in the dark, Lisa. Some years back I began to lose my sight and had to have lens implants; each day brings gratitude for all I can do.
    Blessings – Maxi

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience–the miracles of modern science! What a blessing.

  12. Sylver Blaque June 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    You’ve been nominated for the Illuminating Blogger Award!
    http://sylverblaque.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/illuminating-blogger-award/

    Shine on, Lisa! 🙂

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      Sylver, thank you so much for nominating me! You are connected to such an interesting group of bloggers and I am honored to be a part of your world!

      • Sylver Blaque June 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

        You deserve awards, Lisa. You keep us laughing in the face of Life’s crap! 🙂

  13. Grown and Flown June 13, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Amazing – no end of fascinating experiences to learn about in New York (and I live in the suburbs.) thank you for writing about it.

  14. starlaschat June 14, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    Sounds like an amazing adventure! I can imagine really appreciating your sight after this experience. I know just reading this post about your experince gives me pause and a sense of gratitude.

  15. eof737 June 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    What a powerful post… As a parent of a visually challenged child this struck home. We take a lot for granted until we lose it… TY for sharing this…

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. I found the exhibit to be a profoundly moving experience and I hope that it helps people appreciate the challenges that your child and other visually impaired people face on a daily basis.

      • eof737 June 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

        I hope so too. 🙂

  16. Jen and Tonic June 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    What a cool concept! If I had used this method for all of my dates, I would have gotten more callbacks.

  17. Huffygirl June 17, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Sounds like a terrifying experience, especially when you realize that blind folks are forced to go through this terror every day. It made me appreciate my sight and blessings, just reading your experience.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 18, 2012 at 6:10 am #

      It was a powerful experience that I was eager to share with readers. Thanks for commenting!

  18. nursemyra June 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    What an interesting post. New York City has so much to offer.

  19. frederick anderson June 22, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    Yes, I’ll second all these comments – I think my greatest fear is blindness. Not to see this world? Inconceivable!

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