Conceived more than 20 years ago, Dialogue in the Dark, with the aims of raising awareness and fostering tolerance for people with disabilities, is a unique sensory exhibition that brings visitors – led by blind guides – through a variety of scenarios and environments without their sense of sight. The reversal of roles features heavily in this concept, as a methodology to create empathy: the sighted people are suddenly disabled, whereas the blind individuals –accustomed to these conditions – are capable of managing in complete darkness.
On April 21, 2012, I – with a group of guests from various social enterprises and organisations – had the opportunity to meet with its founder, Andreas Heinecke. Through the short hour or so, we heard Andreas share passionately about his history and undertakings, as well as the assorted challenges he has struggled with from the beginning. Here, I would just like to express two perspectives that I had gleaned from the session.
“The Only Way To Learn Is Through Encounter”
One thing that struck me the most poignantly was Andreas’s humility; even with all his success and endeavours all over the world, he remains extremely modest about what he has achieved. His responses were peppered with remarks like “drop in the ocean”, “never counting on your success” and “minor contributions”, which pointed to his belief that the spread of empathy and the breaking down of prejudicial barriers is a never-ending process.
The element of personal experience also stood out. When Andreas was quizzed about whether he had the intention of expanding the concept to include other forms of disabilities, he explained that these would have to stem from his personal interactions. His commitments have always centred on direct encounters with an individual, and that engagement is of utmost significance. You must be in the story, he passionately quips. Furthermore – from a pragmatic point of view – he does not wish to juggle too many balls in the air, and emphasised the importance of staying grounded and connected.
Ascertaining Effectiveness Of Awareness And Advocacy
As with most awareness programmes, the common question always emerges: how do we go beyond that first emotional impact, to genuinely bring about shifts in mindsets? With its niche concept, the charm of the methodology and the synergy of entertainment and education, Dialogue in the Dark has reached out to hundreds of thousands across the globe; however, the measurement of impact or success goes beyond figures per se.
It was thus fascinating to hear about how Andreas and his team, following the establishment of a permanent exhibition centre, started to conduct immediate (guest books) and long-term (phone calls, five years later) evaluations with their visitors. Feedback has, quite naturally, been largely positive, and I suppose these people would continue to function as de facto ambassadors who will always be spreading these messages of change. Additional research could be necessary, but the work put in has really been outstanding.
Even though the long-term effects remain difficult to qualify and quantify (and cognisant of scientific limitations), there is no doubt Dialogue in the Dark will continue to inspire, in more ways than one. Thank you Andreas, for your insights and views; it was a pleasure.