Lukas Gerhards is a university student from Germany studying special needs education. He is currently interning with Dialogue in Dark (DID) – Rwanda. Having worked behind the scenes at DID, here he shares his experience of attending his first Dialogue in the Dark workshop at the Umubano Hotel, Kigali in November 2015 and how it has changed his perception of visual impairment.
Dialogue In the Dark was a wonderful and precious experience for me. Not only did learn a lot about the ability of blind and visually impaired people, I also found a new perspective which improved my own perception of disability in general. However despite working for DiD I was a little nervous as I knew that I would be led into a completely dark room where blind facilitators would ask me to do a number of tasks – but nothing more. When I arrived I saw many other participants. They all looked a little like me; nervous but excited.
Before we started, a guide explained what was going to happen in the workshop and assured us that there was nothing to be afraid of. We were then handed a white cane (which is used to help visually impaired people with mobility), which was to be our new best friend for the next 3 hours. We also had to hand in our mobile phones to ensure the workshop was completely dark.
As we entered the ‘dark’, it was hard to find a good place to stand and handle the white cane whilst not bumping into other participants. We had to count from one to three to find a table to sit. My table was only a few metres away, but it felt far as I could only find my way thanks to the voice of one visually impaired facilitator standing nearby. It was amazing how much I and the other participants struggled to move in the dark, while the facilitators were walking quickly around the room without any problems.
Once we all found our seats, a series of group tasks were started. I won’t reveal what the tasks were. However by temporarily losing our sight, the tasks were almost impossible to fulfill. I was not alone in finding them difficult but we all worked together to help each one other. We connected as a group, although I had no idea who was sitting with me on a table. I got to know the people only by their voice.
When we completed the tasks, the lights were switched back on and I had no Idea how long I’d been in the room. I also lost my sense of time; it could have been three hours or 20 minutes. I also saw the people I’ve been working with for the first time. It was a funny moment, because everyone was thinking: “Oh, that’s who he or she are.” The group shared their experience in the dark in a special debriefing. It seems like the darkness is different to everyone. To me it was fascinating to have a look into the world of blind and visually impaired people. I learnt that they are able to do the tasks I’d been struggling with, which changed my view of disability. I realized that we must all focus on ability.
I really encourage everyone to take part in Dialogue in the Dark if you get the chance. It’s eye opening!