By Mabel Yet (19S03Q), Vanessa Lur (19S06Q) and Isabelle Tan (19S03S)
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
How would you feel if you were told, right now, that you were about to lose your vision for the rest of your life?
For most sighted people, being blind is perhaps the most terrifying fate. We perceive it as a life plagued with misery and helplessness, and of being wholly reliant on others. While we are aware that these are harmful stereotypes, the mere notion of blindness is haunting nevertheless. As we threaded our way through the unyielding darkness that night, an inexplicable fear struck some of us: what if this darkness stretched on indefinitely for the rest of our lives, becoming something we had to accept?
Yet, on the 11th and 12th of May, students willingly stepped into complete darkness for four entire hours, led by friendly Interactors. Although the event is an annual collaboration with SAVH (Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped), this year, Live In the Dark, originally titled Dine In the Dark, took on a different slant. Moving beyond dining, LITD took us on a realistic journey of the day-to-day life of the visually impaired through an innovative series of simulations. By throwing us out of our comfort zones, LITD aimed to give students the opportunity to put ourselves into the shoes of the visually impaired to better understand the struggles they face.
Dining In the Dark
Many of us are guilty of spending ages photographing Instagram-worthy dishes, but the expression “eating with our eyes first” was clearly out of the question that night. Led by Interactors, students took their first tentative steps into the mini-LT, which had been transformed overnight into what seemed like an endless black portal. Several students chirped, rather nervously, that it felt like being transported to another dimension, fumbling about for anything familiar for comfort.
After diners were settled into their seats, emcees Yashika Relan (19S03E) and Yeo Ning Xin, Camine (19S06J) spoke about the purpose of the event. As we tried our luck spooning rice instead of air into our mouths and repeatedly prodded our forks at the tables, the emcees offered us guidance by comparing the bento box to a clock face to help us gauge the position of the food. Our futile attempts at eating properly were quite amusing at first, with laughter erupting from every table as diners dropped food on themselves or claimed they had “lost their spoon again”. This, however, soon became frustrating, as even poking straws into our packet drinks was a struggle. Tasks to which we barely pay heed in our daily lives suddenly became a challenge, leaving some of us feeling rather helpless. It was like being thrown into the deep end, where the routine act of eating was suddenly forgotten and had to be relearned.
While we were eating (or trying to, at least), we were entertained by the melodious voices of some of our schoolmates who showcased their singing talents, with popular tunes such as Halsey’s Colours and Ed Sheeran’s Photograph. These heartfelt performances were accompanied by loud roars of excitement as participants recognised the familiar voices and started cheering for their friends.
Following which, a hush fell as a short audio-narrative version of the well-known film, The Lion King, was demonstrated. Though listening to these movies was quite different from watching scenes unfold on screen, they nonetheless allowed us to paint mental pictures of how they would play out.
Accompanying each table was a beneficiary from SAVH, whom we struck up conversations with during the dinner. Our group had the privilege of speaking to Ms Christina, who, despite her disability, engages in a wide spectrum of hobbies: from playing competitive goalball (a sport designed for the blind) to travelling to singing, which she showcased later that night. Even without being able to see her, the ardour and excitement in her voice as she shared her stories left us thoroughly inspired.
While we were definitely in awe of them, the point of these conversations was not for participants to be blown away by the endless optimism the visually impaired exemplified, or to exclaim “that’s so brave!”; rather, they served to show that they are just like us.
They don’t want to be called courageous for simply getting out of the house and getting on with their lives; they want to be seen as a person.
Living In the Dark
Bidding a reluctant farewell to the beneficiaries from SAVH, participants awkwardly reformed their human chains and progressed to the second part of the evening: the simulation activities. Though it was an ambitious feat Interact had to pull off for the first time, participants remarked that they were “extremely impressed by the creative yet realistic portrayal of the lives of the visually impaired” as well as “how smoothly the event went”.
“[There is] really far more than just dining in one’s life”, Chang Ting Yu (18S03A), overall IC of LITD, explained. “[We want participants to] experience all these integral daily life activities from the perspective of the visually handicapped.”
Participants were first led into a ‘supermarket’ and tasked to find different items, simulating how the visually impaired do their grocery shopping. Suddenly left to our own devices as the human chain broke apart and everyone scrambled off to scour for their respective items, fear gripped us unexpectedly. Even as shouts for “lemon-flavoured 100-plus” and “where’s the cashier?!” echoed around us, not having anyone to follow as we fumbled around in an endless black void was a somewhat terrifying experience.
As we were unfamiliar with the layout of the “supermarket”, we inevitably bumped into strangers (or friends, we wouldn’t know!) countless times along the way. A good-natured laugh and ‘sorry!’ would follow, although in the real world the public might not be as understanding, especially towards those who “don’t look blind” or the 95% of the visually handicapped who don’t use a white cane. Later on, the station IC revealed that the visually impaired usually employ the help of a store assistant. Though the chaos might not entirely reflect the perspective of the visually impaired, the experience, while frightening, gave participants a deeper insight into the real struggles the blind face finding their way around.
When we were told to fold and categorize piles of laundry as a group, many of us were floored. How were we supposed to identify clothing without our sight? The first challenge we wrestled with came even before we started folding the clothes. Given instructions to collect the laundry in a basket under the table, all of us immediately crouched down and flailed our arms blindly, most of the time hitting a table leg instead. Using our sense of touch, we then had to figure out what sort of clothing we were holding before attempting to fold them. It is in these mundane, everyday tasks that we disregard our sense of sight. Who would have thought that doing the laundry could be such a struggle?
The most exciting stimulation would arguably be The Showdown, where participants were given a taste of how the blind play sports. In pairs, we engaged in an exhilarating game of air hockey, using ping pong paddles and a cardboard air hockey table which Interactors constructed from scratch. As the balls were attached with bells, we could react quickly when we heard the ball come close and swiftly whack it to our opponents’ side. Despite not being able to see, the value of the game was not diminished in the slightest.
Stepping Into New Light
As the evening drew to a close, participants, armed with a new vision after being in the dark for four hours, gathered for the finale. The heartfelt sharings by members from SAVH were both thought-provoking and humbling, as we began to recognise the difficulties the blind face and how we take many things in our life for granted. It is ironic how many of us were blind towards the struggles people with visual impairment encountered, which proves that even those with the gift of sight can overlook many things.
What was most insightful about Mr Chong’s, a member of SAVH, sharing was how blindness does not define the character of an individual. Instead of simply treating the visually impaired as a “blind person” and pitying or admiring them, we should try to get to know them and their personalities, just like how we would with any other human being.
To quote Russell Shaffer, who is visually impaired himself:
“Being blind doesn’t mean you can’t do things anymore, it simply means you need to learn how to do some things differently.”
Ms Christina, another member of the SAVH, performed Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do and Dua Lipa’s New Rules, to rapturous cheers. She has been taking singing lessons for quite some time now and had practised the songs diligently before showcasing them to us. Her performance was well-received, and helped us understand that being visually impaired does not make one’s life any less fulfilling.
Some might be skeptical about how dining and playing games in pitch blackness would help us better empathise with the blind, but participants can attest to how stepping into the dark, albeit for only four hours, has allowed us to look beyond the light. By focusing solely on what is starkly in front of us, we tend to neglect the things that truly matter.
Raffles Press would like to congratulate Interact for surpassing all of our expectations, and here’s to spreading light wherever we go!
1. Sneha Bobba (19S06K) and Nur Amira Bte Idris (19A13B)
Ultralife by Oh Wonder
Sunday Morning by Maroon 5
2. Qin Ai Xin (19S02A) and Mak Rui En Rayna (19S03O)
Put Your Records On by Corrine Bailey Rae
Ex’s and Oh’s by Elle King
3. Pun Cheuk Kei, Junius (18S02A) and Ng Yan Khai, Ryan (19S06N)
Location by Khalid
Photograph by Ed Sheeran
4. Jing Rong Lim (18A03A)
Colors by Halsey
Somebody Else by The 1975
Yashika Relan (19S03E)
Yeo Ning Xin, Camine (19S06J)
LITD Main Committee:
Alicia Tan Shu En (18S03M) – Dinner Comm I/C
Lim Qian Ru (18S06O) – Dinner Comm I/C
Lee Cheryl (18S03H) – Simulation Comm I/C
Tan Yan Ren (18S03A) – Simulation Comm I/C
Rachel Phua Pei Wen (18S03R) – Publicity Comm I/C
Benjamin Paik (18S03L) – Admin I/C
Chang Ting Yu (18S03A) – Overall I/C