What if you were...?

May 28 2015

Hi all,

It seems that karma / chance aligned for me to share with you guys
about an experience that happened this May Day. I went to this museum
called Dialogue in the Dark in Hamburg, Germany. Here, "visitors are
led by blind guides through a specially constructed and completely
darkened space. Conveying characteristics of a familiar environment
such as a park, a street or a bar, a daily routine turns into a new
experience." This was not my idea but I have always been open to
understand different lives. I went with 8 other people in a group
who I just met that very day; it was a trust building experience with
them as well as with our guide. I just started learning German so our
group had an English-speaking guide, who went by the name Ray. He
"showed" us his "car," which we had to guess the brand; his "door,"
where we had to find the doorbell; as well as his "boat," all
simulated in the dark.

In the end we chatted at the “cafe." He helped us identifying the
coins and paying for the drinks and snacks. He could see 7%, has
traveled overseas, and enjoys Chinese martial art films. He is
enrolled in university and uses learning aid (I have seen a couple of
visually impaired students guided only by walking sticks at my own uni
campus as well). At one point he said that his parents were Turkish.
This struck me that I was assuming he was German all the time and it
revealed a lot about the differences in epistemology. So I asked how
do visually impaired people judge others if they cannot see their
appearances. Ray said that people like him usually respond positively
to sounds that are warm and enthusiastic, which was exactly his kind
of speech.

When it was time to say goodbye, I asked if we could see what he
looked like. Ray joked that if we see anyone who looks like Johnny
Depp it would be him. But in the end he wanted us to remember him as a
blind person would remember a new person, and we did not see him. I
shook hands with him instead.
I looked up his full name "Rasim" means the one who draws. It reminds
me of this visually impaired artist John Bramblitt who painted
extraordinary paintings with the help of other senses.

I expected to understand the experience of the blind and visually
impaired. As a student of social sciences, we work with categories,
such as class or race. The same applied for people with disabilities.
But this experience showed that people are not defined exclusively by
their most salient feature. It is a cliche to list the achievements
that blind people have accomplished, but after this time, I realized
that it is so true that one should not judge anyone based on their
disability. After spending 90 min in the dark with simulated
environments and a walking stick, I understood myself better. I am
that I am. Even visual disability cannot change certain aspects of
myself. This is not to say that gender, class, and race does not
matter--Being from an educated family helps. I could imagine sexual
assault would also be more of an issue for women-identifying visual
impaired than the men. (See film "Night on Earth") Still, disability
is only one aspect and does not decide one's life once and for all.

More about me: I am a student studying Indian history, which is
absolutely fascinating. I am going to India in July for exchange.


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