My coworkers and I recently had the pleasure of visiting Southeastern Guide Dogs’ Unseen Worlds.
I knew the experience would be neat, but I wasn’t prepared for its impact on my perspective of life with vision loss.
Teresa escorts us around Southeastern Guide Dogs’ expansive campus and guides us through Unseen Worlds.
First up, a virtual reality (VR) experience.
We enter a room designed to look like a city park. There are sounds of birds chirping. We see a mural of a city park in front of us and feel artificial grass under our feet.
In the middle of the room are six comfy chairs, one for each of us. The chairs swivel and spin, which proves useful in the VR experience.
Teresa gives us background on Southeastern Guide Dogs. We learn that they breed, birth, and train dogs on their campus, and they’re 100% donor supported.
After a few interesting facts, we’re given VR headsets and asked to put them on.
The program begins.
We hear an enchanting British gentleman begin to speak.
This isn’t just any gentleman. This is John M. Hull, an author and professor who lost his sight mid-life. John recorded an audio diary of life with vision loss on cassette tapes. This experience brought his voice to life.
We hear John describe an experience in a park. His narrative is accompanied by environmental noises and little blue dancing lights that give a glimpse of his descriptions.
It’s almost romantic… until it’s not.
Southeastern Guide Dogs was kind to ease us into this world of darkness and blue fireflies. But soon, the noises become overwhelming. It’s a form of sensory overload I haven’t ever experienced. I’ve always had sight to help process the noises I hear. That’s not the case right now.
My heartbeat rises, and I remind myself that this is an experience I can end at any time. The thought of people who can’t end this on a whim becomes overwhelming.
I know I don’t come close to truly understanding. However, this glimpse into a reality other than my own provides powerful insight I wouldn’t otherwise have.
The program finishes and my headset goes black. No more fireflies.
I can’t see anything, but I hear someone asking rhetorical but thought-provoking questions. The voice reminds us that we get to remove our VR headsets soon but many people don’t have this option.
Carson & Suzy
The voice I heard was Suzy, an Ambassador in Southeastern Guide Dogs’ Outreach and Recruitment.
She gives the ok to remove our headsets and begins telling her story.
I would do Suzy a great disservice by trying to retell her story, but I will say it’s powerful. I laughed, nearly cried, and learned a lot.
If you get a chance, go to Southeastern Guide Dogs and talk to Suzy.
At Suzy’s feet lay her retired guide dog, Carson.
Read the rest in our post, Unseen Worlds with Southeastern Guide Dogs.
This post was written by Jessica Sanders