One of the things I always aim for in life is to do as many strange activities as possible! One of them went down today: walking around as a blind person in Nijmegen. Is that a matter of blindfolding yourself and just going for it? Absolutely not. It is an activity that you travel to Nijmegen for, because that is where the Oogstichting and MuZIEon have developed an app that you can use on an iPhone, that is put in special goggles, so you get a virtual reality experience.
Pretty rad, cause it allows you to dig into visual complications way deeper than just putting a blindfold on. When I went to MuZIEum today, I was supposed to go with my boyfriend, but he did not want to go. We were meant to be put in a group that was guided by one visually impaired guide and a visually fine helper. However.. there were no other people that were doing the so-called Expeditie Ribbelroute today, so it was just me! Aaah, awkward, but I was still excited to go and after I suggested that I could go with a group later today, they said that there was only one Ribbelroute today, and as I travelled there for two hours and they assured me that they were excited about doing a private tour, I went along with it.
I am happy I did, because walking around with those weird goggles on was a truly eye opening experience (no pun intended). First in the museum the helper explained how the stick works, how the goggles work and what to do when we cross busy streets. I got a little whistle that I could blow in case I was in trouble (but as I was alone I would not need it, it was just a nice souvenir). Also, I signed for doing this at my own risk, which was fine cause I knew I was in good hands.
The goggles were mighty interesting, cause when I looked at the MuZIEum logo long enough a little menu popped open and showed me the visual challenge I was going to have to endure next. We started off being totally blind, which was weird because I had not seen my visually impaired guide yet! Weird, she was a gorgeous woman and I had no idea! Anyway, as soon as I was out of the building, being all blind and stuff, I felt like the noise from the cars on the street were so loud. I could not concentrate on anything except for that loud sound, I could not even think straight!
When I met the guide we started walking. At first I could use the special marks on the ground, but after a while there were no more marks: aah! It was such a big difference walking on the marks, cause those feel very safe, and it was very odd to me how important that stick is. I mean, when you see a blind person walking, you see him using the stick, but it usually feels like they just use it a little bit. Well, that stick was my life. I never realised how dependent blind people are on it. And it is also very comfy, I could walk pretty fast (in my opinion hihi) when I had the stripes on the ground and the stick. It also felt very natural to just move it around the whole time.
But then, it was time to walk on the streets without marks on them, and that was so challenging. It is challenging because you are walking in a busy city, where there is a market going on, lots of people walking around only paying attention to themselves, it is very intense. It is exhausting, it is very hard to focus on anything, let alone see what stores you are walking by. Sometimes the smell of shops helps: a pharmacy, a spring roll stand, and even newspapers appeared to be very smelly. But it is just very intense, there are so many things happening at once.
And MuZIEum is so nice to have lockers so you do not walk around blind with your bags, but how does a blind person do it? I do not have enough faith in the world to not rob blind people these days, so I wonder how they do it (I forgot to ask, darn it!). I did ask the very charming guide a lot of things: do blind people want my help, did you look for visually impaired friends when you heard about your condition? Stuff like that. She was so open to all my questions, and she told me so many things from her own experience, very lovely.
It was very good and interesting to experience all these visual conditions, I have had a ‘fondue in the dark’ once, but that is totally not compairable to this. This is moving around while being blind, this is out in the open with people that are not aware of you, it is really an experience I will not forget. Not just because I got a VIP treatment, not just because the women were both very lovely, but also because it made me realise how many things I am taking for granted, and how positive people with visual challenges are. They focus on what they can do, instead of what they can’t do, and it is very admirable that they do not just live with these conditions, but they are also open to sharing their experiences with people that are totally clueless about what it feels like to miss one of the senses.
I would highly recommend anybody to do this tour, as it gives you such a different view on what visually impaired people have to go through, and how you would handle yourself if you were in such a position. The goggles with the iPhones in them work really well, and I was very surprised by how the stick and me became one so quickly. I do wish to say sorry once again to the old lady that I hit with my stick, and a few other people.. 😉