Immersive AIME workshop explores what it’s like to be blind and offers new insight into team work and relationship-building.
Guide Dogs Australia brought its Dialogue in the Dark workshop to AIME this year, providing delegates an immersive experience that examines what it’s like to be blind while highlighting the value of inclusivity.
Featured as part of the AIME Knowledge Programme, participants were divided into groups of six and guided through a series of activities by a blind or vision-impaired leader. This is what happened when I embarked on the experience…
As soon as I don the obligatory black blindfold, my other senses are heightened – so much so that once I reached my assigned seat, I can feel every thread of the table cloth that covered the table in front of me. The room was completely shrouded in darkness and we were led to our seats by Francois, our vision-impaired leader.
“In this room, you do not exist if you don’t speak up,” said Russell, the session facilitator, asked us to remove our blindfolds. Pitch black is the result. Uncertainty kicks in. I can hear my breath, voices of the people sat at my table, as well as those sat at surrounding tables. I can’t figure out exactly how many participants are in the room, or the size of the room itself. I tell myself to keep calm and listen for instructions to upcoming challenges. There were three:
Challenge One: Getting to know each other
We are asked to move around our respective tables (unware of the shape of the table) and seat ourselves according to the alphabetical order of our names in under five minutes. We instantly introduce ourselves and all have to remember our names in order to work together.
- Without much knowledge of each other, we were willing to work together because our common thread was the loss of sight. As a result, and coupled with the lack of time, we learnt to trust one another quickly.
- One person led the activity, while the rest of us listened and cooperated.
- There were different accents around the table, but it really didn’t matter as we were willing to listen and ask for clarification when someone wasn’t understood.
Challenge Two: Creating something out of imagination
Each team member is given an object or ‘puzzle piece’. Without knowing what we have in front of us we have to work to together to build something. We cannot see our object and we are not allowed touch each other’s object. We must rely in verbal descriptions.
This seemed impossible. We didn’t even know what the end result was supposed to be, let alone formulate clear instructions to build it. Pessimism ensued, followed by reluctance. It took us a while to align our communication because each ‘blind’ description of our objects was different. In the end, we figured out that our objects were similar in shape. We measured the size of the objects by the lengths of our fingers, palms and arms. Francois, our leader, then put all the pieces together according to our instruction.
The intended result was a wave-like object. A brief moment of candle light revealed that we failed to achieve this. Nevertheless, our struggles delivered a sense of fulfilment – at least we tried.
- I controlled my fear and accepted that fact that I had to work with whatever I was given. Without sight, I felt as though I didn’t have a choice. So, I persisted, and so did the rest of the team.
- We were proud of the object we created – intended or not.
Challenge Three: Knowing when to contribute
Without strategising with one another, we are told, as a group, to count from one to 30 in sequential order. If two people say the same number at the same time, we have to start again. After numerous attempts, session facilitator, Russell, lowered the number to 24. The highest we got was 22.
Russell could sense that we were becoming demotivated, and lowered the goal to 15. He encouraged us to take a deep breath, and to be guided by our senses. “You will speak up when you know you are ready to contribute,” he said. And with that, we achieved our goal and celebrated our achievement with great joy and gusto.
- Human beings have the capacity to ‘sense’ each other without having all our senses.
- I learnt to trust my gut instinct to know when to contribute.
- We must review team capabilities and other factors prior to setting realistic goals
- Celebrate achievements – big or small.
Despite being in complete darkness during the exercise, I shut my eyes when I needed to listen intently. This experience made me realise that ‘the gift of sight’ can be blinding, permitting us to judge too quickly without hearing the real message. This was a truly transformative experience.
When the lights came on and I regained my vision, the newly forged bond amongst my team was greeted with big smiles. Shared experience really does create strong relationships and build empathy.