Seeing Beyond Disability: Live in the Dark 2019

By Gabrielle Ng (20A01E), Clara Shen (20A01A), and Mabel Yet (19S03Q)
Photos courtesy of Chong Jay-En (19S06I) from Raffles Interact

Maybe you aren’t scared of the dark—you wouldn’t even flinch if the lights were switched off suddenly, plunging you into all-consuming darkness. But what if this darkness only enveloped you, forcing you to live like this for days and nights on end? What things might you miss? How drastically different would your daily life be? How badly would you long to see light again?

For its 8th year running, Raffles Interact collaborated with the Singapore Association Of The Visually Handicapped (SAVH) to bring us Live In The Dark, an annual event that allowed participants to put themselves in the shoes of the visually impaired and understand the difficulties they go through. “We feel that the visually impaired is a group that many students have misconceptions about,” Chrislyn Ng (19S03J), Overall IC, explained, “and so we want to raise awareness about [this particular group of individuals].”

On the evenings of 3rd and 4th May, students from various JCs gathered excitedly inside LT3, anticipating their three-hour journey from the perspective of the visually impaired. From figuring out how to eat in complete darkness, to shopping for groceries, and even crossing a road at a traffic light, the three hours took us through the struggles the visually impaired might face.

Participants excitedly making their first foray into the dark.

Dining in the Dark

Eating in complete darkness can’t be that huge of a challenge… right? It’s not like you use your eyes to eat.

As we left any trace of light behind us, participants squealed and tightened their grip on their friends, trying to talk over one another as they groped their way around the unfamiliar darkness. Tables were bumped; a few chairs were stumbled over as we clumsily tried to find our seats. Not many of us expected it to be this darkit was, essentially, floundering about with your eyes closed.

Shouts of “Do you have cutlery yet??” and “Why do I keep scooping air??” erupted from tables all around along with shrieks of laughter, as participants struggled to get used to the darkness. Thankfully, the chaos was penetrated by the the melodic voices of our talented friends from Rock, Chorale and Wild2, who did provide some comfort in the dark. Maybe it was the lack of sight that heightened our sense of awareness—every sound seemed louder, closer, every shift in movement felt more acutely. While here we were all grappling with this new experience together, the visually impaired individuals amongst us have to go through these frustrations alone, every single day.

When we eat on a daily basis, we just eat. And talk. And laugh. But here in the dark we were left to fumble for the rice with our fingers and scramble to clean up the food spilled on ourselves (or on the floor). In the dark no one would know if you made a fool out of yourself, but for the visually impaired, everyone but them is in the light—it left us to ponder if the visually impaired feel embarrassed, or self-conscious, about this simple act of eating.

One meal—and such an extravagant one at that—might not completely replicate the struggles faced by the visually impaired. However, it did allow us to slip into their perspective for a moment to experience the frustration, the helplessness, and the discomfort they might be experiencing whenever the next meal came along. It’s funny how we barely think about our sense of sight when we’re devouring a meal, yet when we’re stripped of it everything suddenly becomes disorienting.

Park in the Dark

As we finished up our food and clumsily reconstructed our human chain, we put our blindfolds back on and headed to our next destination—hesitantly feeling for the next stair, holding onto the railing as if our lives depended on it as we went. For a fully immersive Bishan Park experience in our very own Raffles Garden, each of us were given the white cane the visually impaired use.

Participants try out the white cane the visually impaired use to find their way around.

Without our sense of sight, we were able to engage more actively with our other senses: we listened to the (highly realistic) sounds of birds chirping at 8pm, felt water being sprayed right in our faces (to mimic a waterfall) and fiddled with leaves dotted with dew as we probed around the park with our canes. Participants were also given the opportunity to play an exhilarating game of goalball, one of the many sports at the Paralympics, where our sense of hearing came into play to gauge where the ball was flying towards.

While our other senses were definitely entertained, there were still instances where we had to fight the temptation to peek out from under our blindfolds, which would defeat the entire purpose of the experience. Nonetheless, to see the spotlight increasingly being shone on athletes with disabilities was heartening—and proof that their disability did not limit their capability in any way.

Shopping in the Dark

Shopping is a day-to-day routine for all of us, but shopping in the dark probably isn’t one of the experiences you would be familiar with. After being greeted by the shopping mall announcement, participants were told to wander around the room on their own, following the traces of voices to the stalls. There were four stalls for participants to patronise in our shopping centre simulation—an art lab, a flowers and scents shop, a cookie stall, and a supermarket. Participants were told to carry out different tasks which required an increased dependency on other senses, from picking out vegetables to buying a particular scent.

To make the experience even more realistic, participants were given a wad of “notes”—slips of paper with two holes for $5 or one hole for $2—and were left to fumble for the correct sum of money to give at the various shops.

Amidst all the fun of “shopping in the dark” with our friends, this activity encapsulated more than an enjoyable episode of “comedic relief both the participants and facilitators had a little too much fun tricking others with the anonymity of our voices or accidentally stumbling into other lost sheep, laughing at our clumsiness in the dark. Shopping in a darkened room for less than 30 minutes was merely a small appetiser of what it is like to shop, to live in perpetual darkness.

We did not feel completely alone shopping in the dark because everyone else was struggling under the same circumstances. Even if we were placed outside of our comfort zones, there was much solace found in the camaraderie. But for the visually impaired, it is sometimes a battle they have to fight alone. Although we would never fully comprehend the magnitude of not being able to see, the best we can do is provide a sense of solidarity to the visually impaired people in our community—to muster the courage to offer our help and make their journey a less lonely one.

Crossing in the Dark

As we bumbled on to our next destination, we were led to cross a “road” to simulate one of the major challenges the visually impaired face. For us, we had the privilege of having a facilitator bring us “across”, secure in the knowledge that we weren’t crossing an actual road. We didn’t feel the pressure of tens of cars impatiently waiting for the light to turn green, or the urgency of the green man time ticking down. However, one can scarcely imagine the fear a visually impaired must feel if they didn’t have anyone guiding them to cross the road, relying merely on their sense of hearing to know if there are oncoming vehicles. When should I go? How much time do I have left to cross? Has the traffic light already turned green?

Beyond simulating the daily impediments of the visually impaired, the dangerous uncertainty of ‘crossing the road’ also enlightened us that we should offer our help to the visually impaired in our community. Helping a visually impaired person cross the road, if they do not already have a guide dog or appear to be struggling, can be a small but extremely impactful way of doing so.

Participants not missing a chance to pose for a picture with their camera-ready smiles, even with their blindfolds on.

Cafe in the Dark

For a unique cafe experience you won’t likely get anywhere else, participants got the chance to speak to a member from SAVH with visual impairment (over small cups of ice cream, of course). The initial silence seemed to stretch on forever in the darkness—many felt hesitant to ask questions for fear of saying the wrong thing or unintentionally offending him, but as the conversation started to flow more naturally, we realised that there was little that set us apart from a visually impaired person and more that we had in common.

The SAVH member who awaited our arrival was Mr Zahir, who lost his sight at 19. There was a collective gasp of fondness when he told us he was married, with a child. “Initially, I was very afraid to hold him,” he shared, “but I managed to overcome this fear with the support of my wife and family.” He added, his voice touched by sheer contentment and love, that “you don’t need [to have] eye contact to make babies laugh.” However, a tinge of regret and longing was evident in his voice as he told us how he used to play video games, but is unable to do so now, and how “audio games are just not the same.”

Nevertheless, the laid-back attitude he had towards life moved us tremendously, and we left the cafe with deep admiration and respect. All around us were many other inspiring stories like Mr Zahir’s being shared, showing that it is possible to overcome even the most debilitating circumstances with the support of the people around us. Many of us avert our gaze when we encounter a visually impaired person, or become unnecessarily wary around them, failing to recognise that they are, first and foremost, people. Though our interaction was short, it could serve as the beginning of more open conversations on how can we engage more actively with the visually impaired in our society.

Concluding Thoughts

As we once again gathered in the LT at the end of the night and finally, eagerly removed our blindfolds with relief, participants shielded their eyes, taking a few moments to adjust to the suddenly intense light. The LT was probably exactly how we had left it, but we seemed to be viewing it in an entirely different light. The atmosphere seemed to have shifted to be more thoughtful and pensive as participants reflected upon their last three hours in the dark.

Of course, to pull off an event set in complete darkness was no mean feat.  Along with coordinating all the various activities, Chrislyn explained that “we had to darken all the relevant venues […] and it [was] extremely tedious and time consuming.”

Interact members hard at work in preparation for the event.

“Initially, we experienced some difficulties in planning activities that would not be overly challenging for our participants, but at the same time remain as realistic as possible,” Organising Team member Jeeval (19S03N) put in, “[and this] made me recognise that we take many things for granted.”

Granted, three hours spent in the darkness might not be able to fully capture the depth and extent of the struggles the visually impaired have to wrestle with daily. Many of us would regard the loss of eyesight as the worst thing that could possibly befall us, yet speaking to the visually impaired in our society made us realize that their lives don’t have to be constrained by their disability. As Chrislyn told us, “we hope that participants are able to learn something—anything, really—about the visually impaired, to be able to empathise with them and […] be more understanding towards them.”

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Mark Twain

If there was one thing to take away from the event, it would be to not be afraid or hesitant in offering our help to the visually impaired amongst us. After all, it is only coupled with the collective support of our community will they be able to find the light in the darkness.

With that, Raffles Press would like to congratulate Raffles Interact for yet another meaningful and well-executed Live In The Dark experience!

The LITD Organising Committee all smiles after their hard work had come to fruition.

Organising Committee

Inez Chan (19S06T)
Jeeval Mathew (19S03N)
Linus Yuen (19S03M)
Teo Chee Yan (19A01A
Isha Khanna (19S03H)
Dan Yuet Ruh (19S03A)
Camine Yeo (19S06J)
Chrislyn Ng (19S06J) — Overall IC

Performers

Chorale:
Yvswenne Liew (19S03M)
Sandra Joanne Ng (19S03J)
Samantha Toh (19S03Q)
Choy Xin Yun (19S03J)
Rachelle Marie Chua (19A01B)
Xu Yihan (19S06J)
Cavan Koh (19A01D)
Tan Meng Keat Austin (19S06H)
Axell Ong (19S03A)
Sherwin Lam (19S06O)
Ho Thuy Son (19S03C)

Wild2:
Ryan Ng (19S06N)
Theodore Kuah (19A01B)
Evan Choo (19S03B)

Rock:
Kashfy (20S06T)
Lwynn Ng (20S06T)

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