Dialog in the Dark exhibit is startlingly realistic


Sophia Jaffe, Editor-in-Chief

Have you ever thought what it would be like to be blind? Dialog in the Dark is an exhibition at South Street Seaport in New York City that simulates what it would be like to lose your vision. And the experience was “eye opening” to say the least.

I entered the exhibition knowing very little about what to expect. I knew it would be dark, and I knew a blind person would be my tour guide. But that was about it. I signed a waiver, and the lady handed me a cane. A group of eight of us then entered another room and sat on lighted cubes. The lady closed the door, and the lights and cubes began to dim, until it was pitch dark. I assure you I could not see anything, not even my hand in front of my face. I could not sense who or what was around me, and I started to feel a little on edge. But then our tour guide, who went by Frank Senior, came in and immediately began to calm our nerves by assuring us everything would be okay. He then made a joke about how two people met on this tour a few years ago and later got married. The punch line to his story: they met on a blind date.

We walked, well really stumbled, into the first stage of the exhibit. Frank asked us what we smelled, heard, and felt. Through each stage we had to guess where we were – Central Park, a subway station, or perhaps a supermarket. At various points, I felt my nerves go up because I felt lost, but it seemed that Frank could always feel it. He would reach out for my hand and ask me questions to force me to make sense of what was around me. His warm voice was soothing, and his paternal-like presence was comforting. I convinced myself that he was only slightly visually impaired and had some type of night vision glasses because he always knew where I was.

After an hour of bumping and shifting around, we arrived into a mock coffee shop, and the eight of us sat around a table. Frank asked us what we thought he looked like. I visualized a sweet but hefty old man. The lights slowly came on, and Frank appeared younger, thinner, and shorter than I had thought. He spoke to us about his life – how he had been completely blind since birth. Surprisingly, he said he wouldn’t change his blindness for anything. In no way did he make us pity his condition. In fact, he is a jazz singer and has never let his condition become a handicap.

Dialogue in the Dark switches the roles. Frank had the incredible ability to navigate in the dark, and we were really the blind ones. This reversal was startling, engaging, and inspiring. It must be experienced in order to start an intellectual dialogue on blindness specifically and the true meaning of disability and ability.