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Dialogue In The Dark takes you through the city in a way you've never experienced before

"They spend an hour together not using sight. They have to communicate, to work together and to help each other.”

Imagine an exhibition where you see absolutely nothing. Engulfed in total darkness, you must use your other senses – smell, touch and hearing – to navigate your way around your surroundings. What would you discover around you, in rooms designed like spaces you've seen around Melbourne? What would you find within your own capabilities? How would you experience the world after, once you'd discovered what you have?
A unique exhibition like no other, Dialogue In The Dark is something far better experienced than explained. It can't be shown to you and you definitely don't want the surprises spoiled – but once you've attended, you recognise how refreshing and important it is. A sensory journey from Guide Dogs Victoria, Dialogue In The Dark takes you through the city in a way that you've never done before.
"Even though I knew the Dialogue In The Dark 'product' and what would happen, the very first time I undertook [it] - I still get goosebumps talking about it,” Operations Manager Peter Collins explains of his first personal experience. “I still get excited and I still talk to people with the same enthusiasm that I hear others come out of the experience with. I had those hesitations - I had those moments where I wasn't sure what was happening or how I was going to cope - but I came through with a group of people and it was fantastic."
Though a recent addition to Melbourne, the Dialogue In The Dark experience has travelled to over 42 countries since its birth in Frankfurt in 1988. Since then, more than 9 million people have participated worldwide. Collins first tried the exhibition in Singapore. Not only to understand the exhibition itself better, but to undertake the experience in an environment he didn't know. Like many who've partaken since then, he can't stop singing its praises – uplifting and confidence-building, your internal barriers melt away.
"My favourite part of my job is to actually talk to or listen to people's reactions when they come out at the end of their tour," Collins says. "I've seen people going in as complete strangers who then come out and exchange Facebook friendships or they'll go out and grab a coffee. You actually form a bond with people. People come through doing it in corporate groups, because it really is team-building. We have a lot of families come through, because it's a really great opportunity for mum, dad and even grandparents with children. They spend an hour together not using sight. They have to communicate, to work together and to help each other.”
The backbone of the exhibition itself, however, are those that help you through the challenges – experienced guides with blindness or low vision. Dialogue In The Dark employs over 10,000 people with low vision or blindness worldwide, providing both not only important job opportunities, but chances to provide awareness and education on life with many different abilities and skills. There are opportunities to openly and honestly discuss, with tour guides happy to answer questions about anything from their day-to-day lives, to childhoods, to their aspirations and dreams. Sharing, in many ways, can often lead to the most powerful bonds.
 
“Hamburg having Dialogue In The Dark, like many cities, changes the city,” Collins says. “People with blindness and low vision in Hamburg are much more employed [within the mainstream]. There's a greater understanding of people with blindness or low vision, because 25 years of people who started going there as students in schools, go through as teenagers with their family and then go through with a work group. They become students, citizens and policymakers of that city or town. It actually changes things for the better. It creates a better empathy and understanding in the city and I truly believe Melbourne has a great capacity for that. My dream would be to see Melbourne become more open to different senses of understandings for people with many different abilities."

Dialogue in the Dark runs at Harbour Town, Docklands with sessions running through to Thursday November 30. More details via dialogueinthedark.com.au.