Since 2014, Dialogue in the Dark - Ace Take 1 has trained 4,100 PwDs and created 3,000 job opportunities for the differently-abled across 18 sectors.
“Most people come up with a feeling of sympathy when they meet us. But I/we don’t need sympathy. I can do every normal thing, like everyone else, all by my own. I am used to working in the darkness,” says 25-year-old Faizal, when asked about the challenges faced by a visually-impaired person. And like Faizal, many others with visual impairment or physical disabilities, believe that they don’t need sympathy or help from the society; rather, a mutual feeling of equality is what they stake a claim for.
But this natural outburst of sorry feeling mixed with sympathy towards people with disabilities (PwDs) is the norm. It leads to discrimination and largely hinders the availability of economically empowering opportunities for them across the country. While many consider physical disability as a weakness cursed upon them, people like Faizal want to subvert this notion. And as more progressive social groups join hands to build up a mutually inclusive society for all, the view, that ‘the so-called disabled are not disabled but differently-abled’, should prevail.
‘Dialogue in the Dark – ACE Take 1’ came to the fore with an aim to bring about a mindset change in the corporates of India for creating employment opportunities for PwDs. With the conviction that ‘experiences and encounters are powerfully effective pedological tools’, Dialogue in the Dark provides an empathy experience for its visitors by putting them through daily life situations, in complete darkness.
With a mission to facilitate social inclusion of the disabled community on a global basis, Dialogue in the Dark was founded by Andreas Heinecke at Hamburg, Germany, in 1988. With the goal to change the mindset of people towards disability and diversity, and consequently boost employment creation for PwDs, in the past 27 years, Dialogue in the Dark has been presented in more than 41 countries. Today, it is available in across 21 countries and 29 cities worldwide. Its exhibitions and workshops, where people undergo day-to-day activities in complete darkness, have witnessed more than 9 million visitors.
Introduced to the Indian audience by SV Krishnan and Sudha Krishnan, Dialogue in the Dark has received 8,000 pledges till date, through its sensitisation mission. According to SV Krishnan, in 2009, while waiting for a delayed flight in Atlanta, he came upon an exhibit of DID. He was deeply enthralled by its powerful message and the innovative way of showing how ordinary events like walking in the park, shopping, taking a boat ride in complete darkness were empowering. This encounter inspired him to begin thinking about the pedagogical power of such experiences and employing entertainment as a medium to convey socially relevant messages.
Visitors are assisted by tour guides through the exhibition, but the fact the guides are visually-impaired is not revealed to the visitors. “At the end of the experience, the visitors are led out of the exhibition into the light by the guide. This role reversal brings about a transformation in the mindset of the visitors, thereby leaving them with the understanding that the disabled need empowering opportunities and not sympathy,” says SV Krishnan.
With the determination to bring the concept to India, Krishnan established DID in Hyderabad in 2011. It has now expanded to other cities like Chennai, Bengaluru, and Raipur. DID has also been set up across 15 cities on a temporary basis for conducting corporate sensitisation workshops on the abilities of PwDs.
The wide acceptance and success of Dialogue in the Dark led to the establishment of ‘ACE Take 1’. It aims to create employment opportunities for PwDs through skill development trainings and by bridging the gap between the market requirement and PwD skill levels through vocational skill training.
Through its ACE Take 1 skill development training, DID has trained 4,100 PwDs, created 3,000 job opportunities for them across 18 sectors of the country.
According to Krishnan, “Through DID, corporates are sensitised towards hiring PwDs as they get to experience their abilities without even knowing that they are hosted and taken care of by a visually-impaired.”
While Dialogue in the Dark changes the views of several visitors by providing an empathy experience, the differently-abled connected to it consider it a blessing in disguise.
Rohit Gowlikar, who is currently working as Probationary Assistant Manager in Syndicate Bank, says, “Ignorance of the society about what a PwD like me can do resulted in me not getting a job for three years till Dialogue in the Dark hired me. Working at Dialogue in the Dark has immensely boosted my self-confidence.”
Another PwD guide at DID, Nasir Hashmi, has over the last four years interacted with more than 10,000 guests and conducted over 100 workshops across India, spreading the message of diversity and social inclusion.
Meanwhile, Dialogue in the Dark plans to expand to other Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru by 2018. Furthermore, it aims to provide employment enhancing vocational skills training for 5,000 PwDs, annually, across India till 2020.
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