[TECH 3501] A Journey in the Dark

Journey in the Dark (JID), an event hosted by Diploma in Mass Communication students from IACT College in 2015.

I came across Dialogue in the Dark three years back, when my class of 40 was required to create and host a charity night event and a series of fundraising activities under the Creative Thinking Module. Well, that was my first term in college. And I was 19.

To be frank, I seldom thought about social problems, justice issues, not to mention any civic engagements, in my first 18 years of life – though I did quite a number of community development projects in primary and secondary school, but I guess what contributed to most of that assessments was the desire for good grades.

2015 marked a watershed year of mine, as I began active and genuine participation in community building, development and enhancement projects.

Dialogue in the Dark (DID) Malaysia was the first exposure.

DID revealed a whole new world for me, especially after I went through the 1-hour of total darkness in a specially constructed darkened gallery, in which scent, sound, wind, temperature and texture convey the characteristics of daily environments. The dark rooms may make up of different environments, for instance, a public park, a bustling city street, a food market, a boat, a café, to name a few. I could still remember the one I experienced was to walk through a park, buy fruits in a supermarket and lastly, have a drink in café.

In that experiential tour or DID called it as “exhibition”, I must admit that I felt truly insecure. I was scared – though deep in my heart, I knew I would never be in danger as we were led by trained blind guides. The fear stemmed from the way daily routines suddenly became something so difficult that I needed to hold my friend’s hand to keep me walking; that I had to touch anything around me to help myself making “sense” of the environment I was in; that I wrongly took a drink in the café and needless to (embarrassedly)  mention how I accidentally spilled it. A rush of emotions took place all at once but the main thing I remembered feeling was how scary the real world could be in total darkness.

A reversal of roles is created: people who can see are taken out of their familiar environment. Blind people provide them with security and a sense of orientation by transmitting to them a world without pictures. The tour itself lasts 45 minutes but the effects can last a lifetime. – Dialogue in the Dark (DID) Malaysia

And exhibition is just one of the medium DID used to raise public awareness for and empower the Visually Impaired People, the VIPs. DID also conducts DID Business Workshops, Educational Workshops, Race in the Dark, Birthday in the Dark and Cuisine in the Dark – all of which head towards a simple goal: to nurture empathy and understanding towards the visually impaired. DID strongly believes in learning through authentic experience and thus, sparking dialogues that start with acceptance.

Dialogue in the Dark sparks thoughts that dissolve old mindsets and allow access to new people and a new world. You begin to question your assumptions as you experience your limits. Meeting ambassadors of a little-known subculture initiates a dialogue, which endures beyond your time inside the exhibition. – Stevens Chan, Founder of DID Malaysia

Talking about Dialogue in the Dark, for those who are familiar with the social enterprise, the first thing that came through our mind is definitely the founder – Stevens Chan.

Stevens Chan and Lashawn Chan, Malaysia’s first guide dog in our event – Journey in the Dark (JID), 2015.

Like many of us, Stevens was born with perfect vision. As a rising entrepreneur, his world turned into total darkness in 2007 as he lost his sight to glaucoma, let alone one with no obvious symptoms, no cure, and which often leads to blindness. If you had a chance to talk to Stevens, you will be amazed by his perseverance, in spite of facing daunting challenges after his blindness; and his dedication towards advocating for the VIPs as well as reminding people to appreciate their eye sights, despite the barriers that coming his way.

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. – Helen Keller

This is one of the most impactful lines that have me pondered upon and thought twice before making any decisions in life. Stevens quoted this during his opening speech for Journey in the Dark (JID), and he did in most of his public speeches and sharing.

Despair turned into a sense of mission for Stevens – to stop what happened to him from happening to others. With the assistance of a friend, he first established the Malaysia Glaucoma Society, and later on Save Ones Sight (SOS) Missions Bhd., with a vision of stopping and preventing unnecessary blindness.

Stevens in TedxSS talking about unnecessary blindness and 1% of empathy.

It was at a conference that Stevens first knew about Dialogue in the Dark which was originally founded in Germany. Slowly expanded internationally over the years, DID has reached 8 million visitors in more than 130 cities worldwide. However, it had no presence in Malaysia at that time. And, Stevens started first Dialogue in the Dark in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.

With DID, Stevens hopes that through the medium of darkness, people will learn to love and appreciate light and not to take their GOD given eyesight for granted. Also, equipping, enabling and empowering the visually impaired community whilst enlightening the sighted community in handling diversity.

Stevens did not just stop there.

My main work is to stop people from joining us, and along the way we want to help and equip visually impaired persons with skills. That’s how we came about establishing the Academy. – Stevens Chan, DID Malaysia in AIM

He soon founded Academy of Light that aims to educate visually impaired children and adults so that they have opportunities to gain knowledge. The Academy offers vocational skills such as training facilitators and guides for the DID experiential journey, e-commerce operations, and exploring creative arts such as music, drama and photography.

Not only that, the entrepreneur even established a new entity named Disabilities into Dynamites (DID) MY Academy Sdn. Bhd. (currently owns the license for Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia) with the vision to turn perceived Disabilities into Dynamism; pointing the PWD communities to look at their own capabilities that can transform society’s perception of seeing them as a contributor and no longer as a burden to society and their families! In other words, facilitating the re-integration of these marginalised community into the society. 

DID aligned with itself with UN Sustainable Goals in its pursue of better future for the PWDs.

Well, if you think that is it from Stevens, you are totally wrong.

Malaysia was among the first nations in the world to sign the MOU in support to endorse the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and Malaysia’s Disabilities Act was enacted in 2008.

In conjunction with UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2018, Stevens launched a petition one week ago, with the aim to attain 100,000 Signatures and Likes to support its initiative to Dialogue with the Government – all in hopes to amend and approve the Act to recognise Guide Dogs as Service/Assistant Dogs for the Visually Impaired and to allow them free access to anywhere in our beloved nation, Malaysia.

You can sign the petition here!

In case you are wondering, although dogs are a common sight in Western countries and their presence helps improve accessibility and mobility for the disabled, especially the blind. However, in Malaysia, the acceptance of guide dogs is constrained by cultural and religious taboos, as dogs are seemed as “impure” in Islamic teachings.

To know more about the petition, you may visit:
a) Dogs for Sights Facebook page
b) Lashawn’s new Instagram and YouTube channel

Lashawn Chan – The First Guide Dog for the Blind in Malaysia