Dialogue in the Dark
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|Location||Dialogue Social Enterprise, Hamburg, Germany|
Dialogue in the Dark ("Dialog in the Dark" in American promotional materials) is an awareness raising exhibition and franchise, as well as a social business. In Dialogue in the Dark, blind guides lead visitors in small groups through different settings in absolute darkness. Through this visitors learn how to interact without sight by using their other senses, as well as experience what it is like to be blind. The exhibition is organized as a social franchising company, which offers the exhibition as well as business workshops, and has created jobs for the blind, disabled, and disadvantaged worldwide. The exhibition aims to change mindsets on disability and diversity, and increase tolerance for “otherness”. Since its first opening in 1988 over six million visitors from more than 25 countries have experienced Dialogue in the Dark, which has provided over 6,000 blind people jobs.
The founder, Andreas Heinecke (*1955), had both Jewish and German ancestry. At the age of 13 he realized that members of his mother’s family had been victims of the Holocaust and members of his father’s family had been supporters of the Nazi regime. This realization started a lifelong search for answers such as: What is the process of marginalization and exclusion? On what ground do we judge people and feel inferior or superior? The impact of his search for answers was the start of his quest for tolerance, open dialogue and exchange, and created the ground work for the creation of the Dialogue in the Dark exhibition.
The foundation stone for the social enterprise Dialogue in the Dark was laid in 1986. At that time Andreas Heinecke worked as a journalist and documentary writer for a broadcasting corporation in Germany. One day he was assigned to organize a formation for a 28 years old journalist, who had lost his eyesight in a car accident. Initially confronted with awkward feelings, Andreas started to realize that his pity was misplaced. He discovered being blind is another form of life that contains lots of capabilities. To his surprise it was the blind colleague who showed him how to cope with fundamental changes in life, forcing him to question what makes a truly valuable life. Thereafter he was fascinated by the world of blind people, and he was shocked by the discrimination against them, to which they are still exposed today. This inspired the concept of overcoming the barriers between and promoting exchange between blind and seeing people that is the basic idea of Dialogue in the Dark.
In December 1988 Dialogue in the Dark had its premiere in Frankfurt, Germany. For more than 10 years it toured throughout the world as a travelling exhibition in places like museums or as a special event in a fair or festival. Since then the exhibition has been turned into a franchise, headed and owned by the brand owner Dialogue Social Enterprise. The first permanent exhibition was established in Hamburg, Germany (Dialog im Dunkeln) in 2000.
There have been exhibitions in more than 150 cities in over 30 countries in America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Meanwhile there are now permanent exhibitions in Japan, Italy, Israel, Austria and the USA. The most recent being the temporary exhibition in New York City which opened on August 2011.
The main concept of the exhibition is role reversal, as within the exhibit the blind become "sighted" and are placed with in their element while the seeing become blind. Furthermore the sighted get torn out of their social routines and blind people give them a sense of orientation and mobility. During and after the tour visitors have the opportunity to ask questions they normally might never have the chance to ask a blind person, reducing the barriers on both sides and helping the engender understanding between both groups. As a “platform for communication” the emphasis of the exhibition is not on blindness, but rather on the importance of understanding, empathy, and solidarity. The exhibition aims to facilitate social inclusion of marginalized people on a global basis.
Dialogue in the Dark has two main goals. The first is to increase the public’s awareness of and tolerance for “otherness”, thereby overcoming barriers between “us” and “them”. Sighted people enter the darkness and, as they begin to experience how capable they actually are, will find themselves questioning their assumptions and prejudices about what it means to be "normal" and "capable". Placing themselves in the care of a blind person allows people to understand the strengths and potential of those they often assumed to be weaker and less able then themselves. This experience allows the darkness to become a place of unfettered communication and a beneficial exchange.
According to its website, Dialogue in the Dark's second goal is to create jobs for disadvantaged people by turning perceived deficits into potential assets.
- [dead link]
- "Andreas Heinecke | Ashoka - Innovators for the Public". Ashoka.org. Retrieved 2015-02-25.
- "Dialogue in the Dark". Dialogue in the Dark. Retrieved 2015-02-25.
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