I used my other senses to tune into the sounds around me

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am

Stepping into the dark and being unable to see anything is a disorientating experience, as I found out on a test run of the new 'Blind X-perience' set up in Tuen Mun by Hong Kong charity Crossroads International.

The one-hour experience involves a half-hour walk in total darkness through an 'African village' followed by half an hour's debriefing with the guide, who is himself blind - the idea being to convey what it is like to be visually impaired.

Despite carrying a cane and being led by my blind guide, Kim Mok, I was surprised by how I panicked as we walked along a stony path.

For the first 10 minutes I felt helpless and was relieved that there were others around me. But then, under Mr Mok's guiding hand and that of Sally Begbie, who with her husband Malcolm heads Crossroads, I began to use my hands to feel my way along the wall, and use my other senses of smell and hearing to tune into the sounds around me - the running river, the swishing grass. I found myself in a hut and felt the wall, to discover a water barrel. By the time I reached the village market, I was more accustomed to using my hands, feeling the shape of the fruit, cleaning cloths and other items 'for sale'.

This is the second 'X-perience' set up by Crossroads, following its Aids X-perience. Wearing earphones, you walk through an exhibition and hear voices of fictional sufferers dealing with HIV/Aids around the world.

The Blind X-perience is funded by the Kadoorie Foundation, with the sound provided by Tom Lee Music. Ms Begbie said they aimed to create empathy between those with sight and the blind, as well as empowerment - showing how, when shrouded in darkness, it is the blind person who has the best skills.

Mr Mok, founder of the Hong Kong Blind Sports Association and winner of a 'top ten outstanding young persons award' in 1999, said: 'We must use our other senses, of hearing, smell and touch, to sense the world properly. That's how I have regained my vision.'

The former social worker also stressed that being blind did not mean that the world was grey. 'There's a rainbow in the darkness; it does not mean you can't live a colourful life.'

The African village was constructed to provide a physical backdrop but also to highlight the thousands in Africa who cannot see because of river blindness.

'While we set our Blind X-perience in Africa,' Mr Begbie said, 'its insights are universal among the visually impaired.'

The experience, he said, 'will allow participants to discover how to navigate life using senses other than sight, learning from the best: those who are themselves blind'.

The Blind X-perience is open to both adults and children.