Yesterday I participated in the Dialogue in the Dark Melbourne professional development workshop facilitated by blind or visually impaired guides. The 2hr workshop challenges you to solve a series of problems in the dark. In order to be successful in this team building exercise, you have to be creative, use clear and effective communication and work together as a team with people you don't know. Team building exercises can be challenging enough when you can see the task ahead but you are probably familiar with your group and might easily be able to identify natural leaders in the team. You might also know who you can trust in the group to get a particular task done. In the dark however, it is completely different.
Vision is our dominant sense and we rely heavily on it to interpret what is around us, solve problems, make choices and use it to understand feelings, emotions and gestures. In this workshop, it is pitch black and you are unable to see the facilitator, the space you're in, the group you're with or anything! Your facilitator has a comforting advantage over you with you as the novice and they as the expert in the dark. It is easy to feel a sense of vulnerability, uncertainty and for a few, it may feel very uncomfortable.
We learnt very quickly that the way we solve problems in the light doesn't necessarily work. We had to adapt our strategies, get creative and learn to communicate with clarity. We were terrible at the first task and were determined to improve with subsequent tasks. Everything took longer than expected, particularly with simple tasks like gaining an inventory of the objects the group had. In the light, you can do this in a few minutes then proceed quickly to solving your problem. We had to describe every object or share it with others. Some tasks we were not allowed to use our sense of touch by sharing our objects with others.
There were some very valuable lessons learnt.
1. In the dark, lengthy and detailed instructions quickly lost impact and became confusing. If they were combined with physically moving, it was even more difficult.
2. Using our other senses effectively took time and effort. There was a constant hope that sight would suddenly kick in to help figure something out. A few objects used in the workshop created static electricity that delighted the group when a random flash of light came.
3. It was vital to use standardised tools for measurement. We discovered quickly that describing objects using something arbitrary was totally unhelpful for others. The relative size of objects without being able to share them with others was impossible at first. We could have been far more creative than we were!
4. Communicating an idea, an imagined or created object with others was far more difficult than first thought. It is one thing to visualise it, but to suddenly build it illustrated very quickly that if it wasn't clear, it was easily misunderstood.
5. In the dark there are no preconceived ideas or judgements about people. Who could you trust? What cues could you use to establish trust when all you had was the voice? How could you establish who had the ability to be a good leader in the dark. Was it confidence? Was it clarity? Was it a team player who listened and was thoughtful?
Completing the workshop opened my eyes further to the complexities of living with visual impairment. What are simple tasks for a sighted person can be incredibly challenging for a blind or visually impaired person. It taught me to pause, simplify instructions, be clear in my communications and above all really listen to my visually impaired patients. The workshop taught me that visually impaired people are incredibly resourceful and talented and that we need to do better in our workplaces and society at being more inclusive.
Thanks to our two workshop facilitators who were incredible and to Adam Herodotus and Guide Dogs Victoria for giving me the opportunity to experience Dialogue in the Dark.
To visit Dialogue in the Dark visit https://www.dialogueinthedark.com.au