If you have 20/20 vision or better, consider yourself lucky. If you have less than perfect vision, but your eyesight can be corrected with lenses or even minor surgery, consider yourself lucky. Have you ever wondered what you are taking for granted?...The ability to read this post, for example.
"Dialog in the Dark," a unique new exhibition at South Street Seaport, leads visitors on a journey through mock ups of famed New York City locations in total darkness, giving patrons the opportunity to experience blindness firsthand. With the loss of the ability to see, it is amazing how quickly the other senses take over - smell, sound, taste and touch.
While waiting for the tour to begin, overhead video monitors go in and out of focus, demonstrating various forms of visual impairment. Before entering the exhibition, visitors sign a waiver, and each individual participant is then given a walking cane that becomes a lifeline as a blind or otherwise visually impaired tour guide leads the way with only his or her voice.
In the first room of the tour, the aroma of fresh flora permeates the senses, birds can be heard chirping, and there is a flowing fountain of cold water that visitors can reach out and touch. Can you guess what location this is supposed to be? If I haven't already given it away, ponder on this...
The sensory tour next continues to mock ups of other NYC locations. Step into a Fairway Market and learn how difficult a routine task like food shopping becomes when you cannot see. How do you know what food you are selecting? How do you know how much money you are taking out of your wallet when, to the touch, there are no distinctive qualities differentiating most U.S. currency? How do you board the proper subway to get to and from the market?
"Dialog in the Dark" is a rare, ironically eye-opening experience. The tour lasts approximately an hour to an hour and a half, and ends in a room designed to look and, more importantly, feel like, a diner. Visitors sit around a booth with their tour guide and engage in a discussion about how they felt traveling around in total darkness, and how persons with various visual impairments conquer such challenges daily. Many of the guides are happy to answer personal questions about how their visual impairment has impacted their lives.
As the lights slowly come on in the "diner," participants see the tour guide for the first time. I took the tour myself recently, and was shocked to find that the images I had formed in my head of everything from what our guide looked like to the color and shape of the booth we were sitting in, were completely erroneous. What a different perspective on life this exhibition offers.
Check hours and prices here or, if you are ready to purchase tickets, click here.
And be sure to visit some of the exhibition's partners:
Dialogue Social Enterprise
Bodies: The Exhibition