Everything is black. Your eyes are opened, but darkness is all you can see. There is not even a stream of light you can rely on. Usually, this would be the moment in movies, when someone would turn on a matchstick to enlighten the situation – this time it will not happen.
“Hi, I’m Pawel and I’m your guide today. How do you feel?“
It is an unknown voice form somewhere you cannot even situate. We are at the Invisible Exhibition in Warsaw (Niewidzialna Wystawa) an interactive journey that shows how to experience the world without sight. When you enter the exhibition, you start feeling uncomfortable. You know you gave up your vision, one of the most important senses and that provides the most information. It’s a indefinable felling between dependence and helplessness.
“I’m scared at the moment. I really can’t see anything. I knew that before, but it’s different when you are inside“, my neighbor tells me. I know how she feels, but I don’t know how she looks like.
“Guess were you are now?“, Pawel asks us.
You start touching your surrounding and recognize ties. Maybe that’s a bathroom or a kitchen. Then your hands move on, piece by piece – really slowly. There is a working surface and a cooker. That must be the kitchen!
“Welcome to your flat, explore your own home“, the guide tells us.
While doing so, you will unintentionally crash into other people more than once. Everyone will then step back quickly, laughing in an apologetic manner, while feeling a little embarrassed about the situation.
With time, you start using your other senses differently. You listen more to sounds and you can situate where they come from. You experience various everyday-life places, like a market where you realize, that you can smell different fruits and vegetables without seeing them. You can distinguish apples, bananas, oranges, paprika, celery and carrots only by its smell.
Did you ever realize that you think of warm and sunny climate and do you remember the sweet-sour taste, while smelling an orange? Besides your sense of smell, you will also realize how helpful your tactile senses are and how hard it is to hold the balance without your eyes. You will experience the streets, the forest, a bar or a museum. That might sound boring when you have eyes to see, but it turns out to be an adventure without sight.
“This Exhibition is my life changer”
How to realise world famous artwork when you can’t see anything? How do blind people distinguish money? How to help them, when a blind person asks for the way? Our guide Pawel Kozlowski explains everything patiently. During the whole tour, it seems like he is watching you. He is helping in different situations, while we give him our blind trust. It seems, as if the darkness does not bother him at all. Indeed it doesn’t, because the guides of the Invisible Exhibition are mostly blind or visually impaired. They know from their own experience how this situation feels, they have learned to live with it and now they show ordinary sighted people, how it is to walk in their shoes.
Pawel is 28 years old and visually impaired. He has been working at the exhibition for three years now.”This exhibition is my life changer. It makes me feel pleasant. I talk more to people.“, he explains.
Before he came to that exhibition he describes himself as a shy and unfriendly person, who was living in his own world without any contact to people. Since he started working at the Invisible Exhibition in Warsaw his view on things have changed.
He does not blame politics only for the low attention to the needs of visually impaired people, for there are also initiatives to support them, e.g. a project of the University of Warsaw. He assumes that it is also about the society and the affected ones themselves.
“Visually impaired people need to go outside and apply themselves to the society and society needs to apply to the needs of visually disabled people”, he says.
The exhibition is one example for it. He believes, that this interactive way of putting people in the shoes of a blind person will gain attention.
“Sometimes you need that kind of catharsis so people can understand that better.“
Still he thinks that there are everyday problems for visually impaired people that need to be solved by politics. He wants more audio-sound-assistances and more braille typewriters for every life situations, e.g. at the bus station. Also supermarkets should customize more for blind and visually impaired people.
“We can’t even distinguish between two different brands” he jokes.
However Pawel doesn’t see blindness or visual disability as a downfall.
“People think losing sight is a nightmare, but it is not as fearful. They can still effort a lot in their life. There is still a lot to do, even if you lose your sight.”
Pawel knows what he is talking about. He even did bungee jumping some years ago. The fun-loving and open-minded guide of the Invisible Exhibition shows you that blindness and visual disability is nothing to be scared of. However it’s something to pay more attention to, now that you experienced how it feels to look through a blind person’s eyes.