I’m fascinated by blindness. An experiment I dally with from time-to-time is that of living completely blind for a week. I haven’t yet met a visually-impaired person who finds that offensive, although a good number of sighted people believe it might be, and I do see why people may think it callous to voluntarily inflict upon myself a disability that many wish they could be without.
I have, mostly, worked out the logistics of the experiment. Clearly there’s some parts of my weekly routine that would simply have to be dropped (Capoeira, for example), but I’d aim to go to work every day, to go out with friends, to cook and generally look after myself: and I believe it’s all do-able. Oddly, the most obvious consideration is the one I’m still struggling with — how to effectively, yet safely, fully blind myself for the duration.
The purpose of the experiment is twofold. Firstly I wish to simply see the plethora of challenges that blindness brings. I already have a fair understanding of, and appreciation for, the difficulty (or surprising ease) with which one may accomplish ‘major’ tasks such as crossing a road, but I’m very interested in finding out the challenges associated with minutiae such as dressing in the morning (which I struggle with sighted) or making a cup of tea. A week, I believe, is long enough that I’ll not only encounter these, but that they’ll lose their novelty and I’ll have a (weak) approximation as to their ease given routine practise.
The second reason for my experiment is to see the effects it has upon my circadian rhythms. A friend of mine in London is currently working on a PhD in this area, and her blog, Sleepless Days is leading me to become increasingly fascinated with these too. One particularly interesting example was that of a blind cavefish which retained its body clock throughout generations, but never naturally makes use of it. More formal research into circadian rhythms in the blind suggests that despite a wealth of time cues, a lack of visual stimulus can massively retard a human’s rhythms too.
I had an opportunity this past week to experience, if just for an hour, what I’d be signing up for if I go ahead with this experiment. Dialog in the Dark, which moves around the world and is currently running in New York City and Atlanta GA, offers guests a guided tour through their city’s sights in complete blindness, with a visually-impaired guide. I went with a large group of friends and, once the novelty of using our canes as swords and groping one-another had worn off slightly, we explored Times Square, a subway station, a supermarket and other such venues.
Food identification was a particular challenge. However, I knew this was coming, thanks to my experience in Nocti Vagus, a restaurant in Berlin where you eat in pitch blackness from a ‘surprise’ menu and are served by visually-impaired waiters. When shown the menu at the end of the meal, I had completely misidentified some foodstuffs (most sensationally, confusing carrots with lamb), but the process of eating was remarkably simple, and the focus on texture, and the conversation of the girl I went with, was massively enjoyable.
Getting around the Dialog in the Dark areas was relatively difficult. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the experience is presented in a small area with many walls (that I rapidly discovered) but I can’t speak as to how well I would have done in a more realistic scenario. Navigating towards sounds quickly became very simple, as did walking at a decent pace without fear, by protecting myself with a cane and a slightly outstretched arm. However, I doubt that I accomplished the aim that one of our visually-impaired guides said her parents drilled into her: “try not to look weird when you move around”.
I thoroughly recommend both Dialog in the Dark, and dining in complete blindness, which is now available in most major cities (a quick search shows Dans Le Noir in London and Opaque in New York City.) I’d appreciate advice and thoughts about my proposed experiment.