For 24 years I have believed in the power of darkness and the reversal of roles for blind and sighted people. Dialogue in the Dark is my brainchild. It's a simple concept: the blind leading the sighted ones in the dark. It is a fundamental experience, and one that you survive only by relying on people you can't see, with trust and openness. Millions of people have gone through this program and have inspired hundreds of others to build their own social enterprises. Dialogue in the Dark set up a platform for a shift of perspectives towards ability and disability. We are all disabled in certain circumstances. We learn from the blind to see the invisible, but at the end of the journey we feel blessed not to be forced to live without eyesight.
Most likely we won't become blind, but most likely we will all become older. Health care, education and support systems have helped a lot to increase life expectancy. Nowadays, there are more people aged over 65 than under 18 in Germany. Seven thousand people have celebrated their 100th anniversary; 20 years ago only 1,700 people reached 100. How to cope with the growing numbers of senior citizens is one of the most compelling challenges for the industrial countries. Is old age an asset or an evil?
As the ageing process affects us all, one cannot avoid a serious reflection about this strange loop of gaining and losing. For us, as a social enterprise with the mission to promote inclusion of marginalized people and to change the mindset towards otherness, the topic of ageing provides excellent ground to find another angle to do the same, but in another context. How to take the dialogue out of the dark? How to address the much broader topic of ageing and provide a stage for people over 70 to position them as role models for pro-ageing?
After some years of trial and error, the new exhibition Dialogue with Time was born. Together with the Israeli Children's Museum in Holon we created an exhibition, where 58 people between 71 and 86 years of age found a paid job and an excellent showroom to fight against prejudices and stereotypes.
How does Dialogue with Time work? The exhibition is structured in different parts. In the prologue, a photograph of the visitors is taken to prepare them for the journey. They enter to a tunnel of questions about ageing. Visitors then enter the yellow salon, a space where they can experience how it feels to be old: for example, they wear gloves to use a mobile phone; try to understand a voice message; open a door with trembling hands; and move along with heavy shoes. The simulation prepares the visitors for the encounter with the older person, who is waiting in the next space: welcome to the club. Here the visitors' photos are transformed into an 80-year-old person. The group moves on to the next space: the play field. Here they play different games to reflect about stereotypes (too old to... ), aspirations (happy ageing) and knowledge (trivial pursuit). In the next space they have to decide whether they want to enter the "looking backwards" room or the "looking forward" room. In the next part of the journey, visitors can watch a video animation of stories of old people who missed something in their lives, or who are still full of energy. Finally, visitors have a roundtable discussion with the older person about the experience.
The public's reactions to the whole experience has been stunning, with some visitors in tears, regretting that they missed the chance to have empathy for those who passed away in old age. Older visitors have come away understanding that they can do much more if they allow themselves; and young people have been stimulated into knowing more about the ageing process, and the experiences, daily challenges or future aspirations of old people.
Dialogue with Time confronts people with a topic that no one can avoid, and addresses concerns about ageing. The dialogue takes us out of the dark and puts a spotlight on our blind spot. Dialogue with Time can be experienced at the Israeli Children's Museum in Holon (near Tel Aviv) and soon in other places around the world.