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Efforts of the Dialogue Diversity Museum “Dialogue Forest” 1F, atre Takeshiba Theater ridge 1-10-45, Kaigan, Minato-ku, Tokyo

If someone ask you, “have you seen things without your eyes?”, how would you answer? Dialogue in the Dark is a program in which you will be guided by people with seeing difficulties in absolute darkness. You will fully utilize your senses except your sight to have dialogue with your teammates and experience diversity at the same time. We interviewed Mr Shinsuke Shimura, the director of Dialogue Japan Society (https://djs.dialogue.or.jp/)which operates the Dialogue Diversity Museum "Taiwa no Mori (Dialogue Forest)" (https://taiwanomori.dialogue.or.jp/), where you can experience this program.

To pass on the Legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games

Dialogue in the Dark was founded by a German Philosopher Andreas Heinecke in 1988. It has been held in Japan since 1999. At the beginning it was a short-termed event held once a year for around a week, and there were only 500 to 1000 participants. As the program continued for 10 years, there were ten thousand participants in three months, and tickets were sold out immediately.

In Dialogue in the Dark, visually impaired people guide people who can see. In the case of temporary events, visually impaired people had been working lively during the project, but as the project ended, they changed back into the weak of society. In Europe, it is normal to have systems for people with disabilities to participate in the society. There are also permanent exhibitions of the Dialogue. Seeing that, I decided to create a permanent exhibition in Japan. However, I faced many difficulties before the opening. For example, it was difficult to find a place since many requirements were added after knowing that many people with disabilities will work there. Finally in 2009, I found a place in Gaien-Mae and we can provide the program permanently. After some years, the Tokyo 2020 Games was decided and one of the basic concepts was “Diversity and Inclusion". I wanted to create an environment that could pass on the Olympic legacy. As a result, in August 2020, another permanent exhibition was opened in Takeshiba.

Facility for corporate training and school education

There are programs for general, corporate and children. In the general program, the content is seasonal. While enjoying it as a social entertainment, people can experience diversity. For corporate program, based on the needs of the companies, we offer different themes such as teambuilding, communication and diversity as training (Dialogue Business (https://biz.dialogue.or.jp/)). For example, staff working at different places and fields such as ground staff, cabinet crew, call center operators of an airline experienced the program. We got comments saying, “as we could not see, I understood the importance of confirming others’ locations and what they were doing, and the importance of communication.” I believe this kind of awareness can also enhance innovation and leadership.

Nowadays, everyone is talking about SDGs. For companies who have no idea or companies with a mix of new culture due to M&A, we provide customized programs to solve different problems. In darkness, there is no job title, and it is fair to everybody as no one can see. Through the process of communication and making agreement, people’s relationships are reconstructed, stress is reduced, and new awareness is found. I heard that it can also increase people’s loyalty to their company.

For children program, in overseas it is treated as a part of school education and around 60% of grade four students experienced the program. Yet in Japan, we have worked for 20 years but only 3% are children. We think that it is important to experience free conversations through playing before unconscious bias or exclusive consciousness grows, so we started a crowdfunding to let 5000 children experience the program for free. (https://kodomo5000.dialogue.or.jp/)

Importance of social participation and dialogue of people with disabilities

In nowadays society, there are many transparent walls between generations, people with or without disabilities, and genders. Japanese usually treat people with disabilities as not related and people on the other side. In fact, they need to aware that they are close to us on the same side. The guides of the program are visually impaired people. They usually say thank you and sorry to people who can see and think they are great. Yet it is opposite in darkness. Visually impaired people have brilliant senses except sight and have undiscovered infinite possibilities.

A guide need to escort the visitors safely, and at the same time be entertaining. In order to be a guide, not only trainings on gestures, voice and service are needed, they also learn about the idea of Dialogue. That is why we have the Attend School (https://attend-school.dialogue.or.jp/). After that, they will learn from the senior guides and be examined during demonstrations, and finally they can debut as a guide. It takes from 6 months to a year to debut. Being thanked by the participants, guides become more confident and can perform better and better.

“Cannot see”, “cannot hear”, “getting old” sound very negative to many people. However, there are many things that can only be seen by people who cannot see, heard by people who cannot hear, and passed on by people at their old ages. Here in the “Dialogue Forest”, besides Dialogue in the Dark, there are also programs such as Dialogue in Silence and Dialogue with Time.

The founder, Andreas Heinecke, said, “The antonym of war is not simply peace, but the effort to continue a fair dialogue.” In a time like this, I recommend partners in the travel industry to experience different kinds of dialogue, and utilize it in the promotion of accessible tourism.

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