FEELING a little anxious, Kim Chow clutched her white cane (the type used by the visually impaired) tightly as she and seven others stumbled across a hallway and room that is intentionally made pitch dark.
Escorted by a visually impaired guide, the group of eight strangers attempted to find their way using nothing more than their canes to guide them to their lunch served within a very special restaurant within the Sunway University campus called the Dialogue The Dark Restaurant.
Swanky jazz music came on as the group is greeted by their server of the day, Mohd Shafiri Jusoh, as they enter the restaurant to take their seats. However, there was an awkward silence among the guests as none could see each other, or anything for the matter, until Mohd Shafiri asked what they would like to have.
“Shall I get your drinks,” asked Mohd Shafiri who is also sight impaired.
Conversation flowed after that simple question, and everyone then started to speak.
Founded by Stevens Chan, 54, Dialogue In The Dark Malaysia serves as a platform to raise awareness towards eye health with a unique twist.
Instead of a lecture on the importance of eye health, participants will get to experience what it is like living without sight.
“This concept was adopted after we noticed how hard it is to educate people about eye health,” said Chan, who is also founder of the Malaysia Glaucoma Society and non-profit organisation, Save Ones Sight Missions Sdn Bhd.
“Dialogue in The Dark helps raise awareness among the young about empathy and inclusion, having a sense of appreciation and gratitude, as well as to take care of their eyes,” he said.
Chow who is the director of her communications company, said the experience of dining in the dark was “incredibly amazing”.
“Sitting down and eating lunch in pitch darkness, I realised that I focused on my sense of hearing and sense of touch and I felt a deep feeling of appreciation towards what I already have.
“I learnt that we should not take things for granted, that we need to count our blessings in life,” she said, adding she was initially apprehensive of going through with the experience.
“I was worried I couldn’t manage myself in the dark, that I’d mess things up and make a fool of myself,” she said.
However, Chow was glad to have undergone this experience.
“This experience developed my respect and appreciation for the visually impaired, who are a source of inspiration and courage for humanity,” she said.
Aurelie Sarah Mok Tsze Chung, a Monash University Malaysia student participating in the experience, also admitted to being anxious at first as she was with “total strangers”.
“But we came to know each other during the dining session, and it was a really nice experience getting to know people while savouring our lunch in the dark slowly, tasting the flavours.
“It makes me appreciate the food served to me, as well as the company of new found friends,” said Mok, who added that everyone should experience how it feels like being blind.
“We see blind people and feel sorry for them, but after this experience, we come to know of the struggles they face and it is really surprising how they can manage everything we do without help.”
Chan, who lost his sight from glaucoma, stressed that youths are at risk from losing their sight from the overuse of mobile devices that strain their eyes.
“Through this experience, we hope they will slow down, really look at life, because there is more to life than living behind a computer,” said Chan, who pointed out that Dialogue In The Dark, also conducts team building workshops.
“The moment people encounter what it is like to live without sight, they generally would be thankful to have good vision,” said Chan.
Other than educating the able-bodied, Dialogue In The Dark also provides the visually impaired with an opportunity to work.
“It gives them a platform to show people that they are capable of - that they are not (merely) disabled people - it includes them in society. In the end, the visually impaired are not looking for charity, but empathy and equal opportunities.”