Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Nitin B | The News Minute | December 16, 2014 | 12:50 pm IST  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be visually impaired? Walk into Hyderabad's 'Dialogue in the Dark', and the world the visually impaired live in, reveals itself.  As the door shuts, patrons are thrust into pitch darkness. As they try to stumble their way in, completely disoriented, they are greeted by the sounds of chirping birds and a fountain.  The visitors are given a white cane each and a visually impaired guide is assigned to the group, who helps them experience his life - a stroll in the park or a meal at a restaurant, relying heavily on senses other than sight. Initially, the visitors fumble and repeatedly bump into each other, till they settle down into following the guide's voice. “The moment people realize I am blind, their complete attitude changes and they stop asking questions” one of the tour guides for the experience says. The people working there have accepted it and just lead a normal life like everybody else. “We don’t want sympathy. We just want empathy” he adds. The visitor's are encouraged to touch and explore their surroundings. For instance, the visitors are allowed time to explore the plants as they walk. “All the plants here are real. It’s a park remember?” the guide calls out, much to everyone's amusement.  Visitors are also guided across a bridge, through a museum, a market and even a mine-laden battle field! And for those interested, they can join in a game of cricket as well.  A food counter right at the end is the most lingering memory of the evening as the visitors pay for their meal, not knowing what denomination of currency has been used. However, the change returned is exact - The employees have a lifetime experience of working without sight and you are led right back to the door where you started. ​ ​The concept of Dialogue in the Dark​ (DID)​ was founded in 1988 by Andreas Heinecke. Over the last twenty years Dialogue in the Dark has been presented in more than 30 countries and 130 cities throughout the world since its opening. ​ ​Begun​ in India​ by S V Krishnan ​and Sudha Krishnan​, ​Dialogue in the ​D​ark is par​t of a series of experiences provided by​ Hyderabad based “ACE Experiences”.​ ​ACE is an acronym for Art, Culture and Entertainment. It works around the concept of using entertainment for social change. It also trains people with disabilities to empower them by creating meaningful employment opportunities. “DID is a very unique international experience that has entertainment to sensitize people on the ability of disabled. Since its opening in 2011 in India more than 200 corporate have visited DID and taken back a message on diversity and social inclusion” says Sudha, Co founder & COO. The Indian founders say they hope to bridge the gap ​and develop empathy among the sighted for the visually impaired. Visitors​ are​ ​also encouraged to ask questions to the visually impaired guides and other employees.  This unique experiential model employs thousands of visually impaired people across the globe. ​The visually impaired ​staff members​ also say their their self-confidence​ has increased​ and changed their self-image. “ACE has launched a national initiative in partnership with the National Skills development corporation (NSDC) to train and place people with disabilities in corporates, who after visiting DID are more open to hire the people with disabilities in their Organizations” says Krishnan, the Founder & CEO. They opened the first branch of "Dialogue In the Dark" around four years ago in Hyderabad and opened another one in Bangalore's Phoenix Market City in the last week of October. The company is quite optimistic about their results "We have sensitized close to 2 lakh people on the abilities of visually impaired people and people have taken back a message on diversity and the need to create an inclusive society." they add. (S V Krishnan and Sudha Krishnan) "People go through a mindset change and at least start thinking about the disability space and population in India which otherwise they wouldn't have thought of till they experienced DID. Corporates show interest in hiring people with disabilities, and because of the interest generated we started working on a project called Take one which is a simple and yet powerful idea of requesting the corporates to hire at least one disabled person in their organisation and we help them identify the jobs that can be done and source and train people for the same." This initiative is a big step towards changing the people’s perspective towards other people with disabilities. A branch in Chennai is going to open by the end of 2014. Tweet
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