Either way, welcome to the dark.
With the warm-up, did you gain more confidence? Be ready, we are going for something real. Real in some way, from their perspectives. Now, we are entering a totally dark environment, without any looming lights. With only a walking stick on your hand, we are going to experience different situations in a blind person’s daily life for more than 1 hour. Don’t worry, we will have a tour guide in the dark, talking and giving us instructions.
Panicked? Excited? Or Curious? You can decide after you experience it.
First, let’s focus in the dark. Bet no one wants to miss a step under these circumstances. Now, take a deep breath, listen, our tour guide is greeting us in the dark. Oh, his name is Benny; and yes, from his voice, it is a ‘he’. He will guide us through the whole journey. All we need is to trust him, carefully listen and follow his instructions.
‘Birds’ singing!’ Lucky that we have seen birds and been well familiar with their voices that we answered without any doubts.
Looks like a good start.
And we start to move our feet reluctantly into the unknown with one hand tightly grasping the stick exploring and the other constantly touching the darkness in case of anything dangerous ahead. Gradually, our feet feel the bumpiness while the dancing exploring hand suddenly runs into some softness. We are called to stop.
‘Now tell me, what is under your feet? And what is your hand touching?’
‘Cobblestone!’ Smart voices jumped in.
‘Leaves! We are touching the leaves!’ More voices joined.
‘Well done! Now try to smell the leaves. Are they living things or fake?’
A slight hassling.
‘Fake!’ Most of us said.
‘Some are real; some are fake?’ Someone is murmuring.
‘I guess it is real!’ One disputed the crowd.
‘How could it be real? Don’t be silly!’ Several disapproved.
‘Well, maybe it’s fake then.’ The one changed her mind quickly.
‘In fact, the leaves you are touching now are all real living things’, Benny’s affirmative tone convinces us all, ‘That’s why you could smell the subtle aroma from herbal notes.’
Another hassling for this new sense given by the darkness.
Benny then instructs us to touch the benches and steel dustbin around us. ‘With all of these, guess where we are now?’
That’s an obvious one after all of these. Yes, our first stop is a garden.
Heading to the next, more challenges are waiting for us. This time, Benny clearly explains what we will confront. We are going to stagger across a rope suspension bridge, board on the Star Ferry, find a seat then heading to Central. A rope SUSPENSION bridge! My memories flash on how every time this type of unstable swinging bridge converges all of my nerves even with my wide eyes open. I remembered how my brain ordered my eyes to concentrate on every tiny move of my foot on the bridge; and now, with the dark, it seems that our biggest advantage has been taken – we could see nothing in the dark, neither the bridge nor the rope. How could we manage to go through it? How is it possible to balance our bodies on a suspension bridge without even seeing it? Yes, yes, I have to admit - I am getting panicked now. Anyway, I have no choice but to try my best. Luckily, following one another in a team eases me a little bit. I hold the rail on the left-hand side, ‘stick’ the path like a probe frequently, balance my body at my best, following closely to the girl in front of me. Besides, the clear instructions from Benny also give me more confidence.
Whoopee! We made it! Now we are on board! Curling in tiny water drops, fresh breeze gently teases our faces and makes us relaxed as we are heading to Central. We chitchat cheerfully about different buildings along the Victoria Harbor, share what we usually do when we take the ship in real life, and have a little review about Central. Maybe it is the diminishment of my previous panic that has made this trip a most pleasant one; or it could also be that we have been more or less getting used to the dark since I could sense big smiles on people. Or maybe both. Now Central, here we are.
We are on road again. The beep of traffic lights and noises of running cars signal the busy district we are in. We need to cross the roads, and visit one of the significant landmarks of Central – the street market. The change of beep for green lights signals us to take action. It is obvious that no real cars would exist in this situation so we blitzed through this darkness with enough confidence. However, in real life, while cars sit on the waiting line impatiently like an arrow about to bound out of the sheath, and with passengers flying on their feet flooding across the roads, dangers could be furious for the visually impaired people moving more slowly. How smart they are to manage this! The street market is right here, after we crossed the road. We are now facing different baskets of fruits and vegetables. We touch, smell, exchange ideas on what they are before Benny’s giving right answers. Apparently, not all of us could get all of it right even though we have seen them with our eyes. Now I am deeply amazed at how brilliant people with visual impairment are, for perceiving the objects in life.
The next stop is a theater. Tunes are playing for our appreciation. Benny interviews every one of us on our opinion about the music played. The comments differentiate. Some say they are from rain forest, some say they are from indigenous people, and so on. ‘This process shows that everyone could have different feelings and judgments based on their distinctive life experiences.’ Benny has a point there. I nodded quietly in the dark, pondering what he has said.
Last but not least, we are heading to the Dark Cafe. Still in the dark, we greet the waitress, order beverage and food, pay our money, take the change precisely and hunt for a table to sit down. While we are enjoying our refreshments, I am extremely impressed with what happens following. It begins with Benny’s question. He invites us to make a guess – whether he, as our tour guide, providing us with safe, clear and patient instructions throughout the journey, has been cheating with his eyes supervising everything in the dark or not? That is, can he see with special gadgets in the dark? The question all lead us to a ‘yes!’, Surprisingly, this was proven wrong. Benny gave us more information about himself now. He had a disease when he was a child and became seriously visually impaired. He could only sense simple shadows under lights; and this only advantage would be lost in one year by another drop in his eyesight.
It is still striking for me, even with the tour finished. The reversal of roles between the blind and sighted, the insecurities arising internal and external, and the bright new life in the dark are all inspiring. I offered to shake Benny’s hands and pay our respects with a round of applause, which he accepts willingly. He stays in the dark room when sending us to the exit. We do not have the chance to see what he looks like. But what does that matter? His voice, his laughter, his protective instructions have made Benny as Benny, an ‘abled’ decent man protecting a group of ‘disabled’ sighted people in the dark. All I feel is that, ‘He is AWESOME!’ There is nothing like this that we should be hesitated to reach out and nourish our potential ‘ablers’ in our community.
And of course, what we could do immediately is to change our stereotypes towards this group of ‘underprivileged’ people. What’s more, it is not only for people with visual impairment, but for many more people with physical impairments. We could see that there are endless career possibilities they could pursue, not only providing normal phone services which they usually do behind the scenes, but also being a tour guide, someone in front of the stage and even a Google engineer! As we can see, our society has ruled out this group of people by underestimating their abilities in some way. The truth is, we have no reasons to do that. They have proved that they do deserve a lot better employment and treatment with their huge potential. Spot them in a bright future instead of in the dark!
 Star Ferry: The Star Ferry, or The "Star" Ferry Company, is a passenger ferry service operator and tourist attraction in Hong Kong. ‘The Star Ferry's ferry crossings at Victoria Harbor are acclaimed as an important part of the commuter system between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and essential journeys for visitors. The National Geographic Traveler named the ferry crossing as one of 50 places of a lifetime. The ferry ride is also well known as one of the world’s best value-for-money sightseeing trips.’
 Mission stated on the official website. Dialogue-in-the-dark.com. (2016). Dialogue in the Dark. [online] Available at: http://www.dialogue-in-the-dark.com/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2016].
 Data extracted from the official website. Dialogue-in-the-dark.com. (2016). Dialogue in the Dark. [online] Available at: http://www.dialogue-in-the-dark.com/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2016].
 Parija Kavilanz, "Jyotsna Kaki Overcame Blindness To Thrive At Google", CNNMoney, 2016 <http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/16/technology/jyotsna-kaki-google-accessibility/> [accessed 23 September 2016].