If you can see you probably appreciate your sight and perhaps even take it for granted. And, if you can see, and you go to Budapest, you should visit The Invisible Exhibition.
What is this woman talking about?! Well, when Blonde and Brunette visit a place we try to check out something we assume is not being covered by other bloggers. (That’s partly why we end up in so many bordellos but that’s another post.) We go to the main attractions, generally enjoy them and write about them, but we also like to bring you something a bit different or weird, besides ourselves.
What is The Invisible Exhibition?
The Invisible Exhibition is indeed different. It’s a permanent exhibition that exists to give sighted people some understanding and knowledge of how blind people literally and figuratively navigate the world.
We contacted them well in advance of our visit to ensure that we could have an English speaking guide. If you go there and want a guide speaking a language other than Hungarian, you too need to make an advance reservation. The entire experience took about an hour and we can even tell you a nice place nearby to go have lunch if you hang in with us here!
What do you do see when your tour the Invisible Exhibition?
You are assigned a blind or partially sighted guide for your tour. The first part (and the only part where we have pictures because otherwise it is in complete darkness) consists of an explanation of how to read Braille and a few other things.
Braille is a set of raised symbols in “cells”. A Braille cell consists of two columns of three dots. The dots are numbered 1-2-3 from top to bottom on the left side of the cell and 4-5-6 from top to bottom on the right side of the cell. Each Braille letter, word, punctuation mark, number, or musical note can be made using different combinations of these dots. It’s quite impressive actually and our tour guide was very adept at reading and writing in Braille.
To write he used a small, very old-fashioned looking, typewriteresque machine called a Braillewriter. For the 4 of us in our group he typed our names in Braille on small pieces of paper. We couldn’t help but hope the Braillewriter doesn’t have autocorrect as that could open a whole new world of problems for the blind!
We learned that books written in Braille can weigh up to 25 pounds and be in several volumes so people don’t have their own books at home. They can generally only access books at libraries for the blind. But one very cool new option is iPads in Braille!
Unfortunately, blind people often are not in a financial situation to purchase these but advances are being made in adaptive engineering that should help people with many disabilities in the near future.
If a blind person wants to write he or she uses a stylus to punch dots through paper using a Braille slate with rows of small “cells” on it as a guide. Knowing how to read and write in Braille has an extremely high correlation (believe it was 80%) to a blind person gaining employment. But, for various misguided reasons, Braille literacy fell to as low as 10% by the 1960s. There has since been an upswing in teaching Braille due to outreach and programs from the National Federation for the Blind.
There are also other things to help the blind such as talking clocks and horror of horrors – talking scales!
After we were thoroughly intimidated by the idea of learning Braille and hearing our weight shouted out, our guide allowed us to ask him nosey questions. The basic facts were that he was blind from birth, his father couldn’t deal with a blind child so left the boy and his mother. Now in his late 20s the guide lives in an apartment with his mother.
He said it’s very difficult for both of them as she cannot move literally anything without it potentially being either a nuisance or a hazard for him. (Blonde knew right then that a blind person could never survive a visit to her home where even she doesn’t know where things are and there’s always an ancient cat underfoot!) Also, our guide said he cooks which amazed us.
That may say more about us than about him. Maybe we set our expectations too low with assumptions about what the blind can and can not do.
What do you not see at The Invisible Exhibition?
After the intrusive question session we went into an area that was astoundingly dark. Not the sort of dark where your eyes adjust even a tiny bit – total darkness. We were in a small apartment and had to find the stove (glad they had it turned off), a sink, a coffeemaker and several other things. Of course we were all completely inept and ran into each other so often we really wished we’d brought George Clooney.
Another experience was trying to cross a street by listening to traffic sounds and finding a curb. In real life there’s no question we would have been fatalities. There was a brief sojourn in nature with sounds and scents simulated. That was perhaps the only part where it seemed to us as if you could still throughly enjoy yourself even without sight.
At the end of the tour, still in the dark, we went to a “bar” and had to find seats and order drinks (water or coffee, not dirty martinis). Then it was back out to the harsh world of light which was very disorienting for a few minutes.
In addition to what we did they also hold dinners in the dark and then sing and dance. We wouldn’t do that in the light so we sure weren’t going to do it in the dark, but it’s an intriguing concept nonetheless!
If you come out of the Invisible Exhibition without greatly increased empathy for the blind then you’re missing some vital emotional component and should probably run for public office!
And, because you were nice enough to read this far, we will suggest you walk a few short blocks over to a an adorable sliding-towards-hipster neighborhood. Have lunch at Bocelli’s (we assume this is totally unrelated to the blind tenor Andrea Bocelli) and then check out the area shops before most likely catching a streetcar back across the river to the “Pest” side of Budapest.