A humbling place for the blind to lead the blind

In the inky dark, there is nothing but Kerry's booming voice to follow. He instructs us how to use our white canes - tapping them in front of us from the angle of 10am to 2pm, not raising them more than a few centimetres off the ground.

The lights have dimmed to black and our small group of eight has gone from being reliant on sight to being reliant on sticks.

This is Dialog in the Dark, an interactive exhibition that has run since August last year, which is designed to bring us face-to-face with New York sans sight. And if we believe philosopher Martin Buber, "the only way to learn is by encounter".

We are led by our (as yet unseen) guide, Kerry, who lost his sight at age 18 due to detached retinas. It's a rather literal case of the blind leading the blind. Kerry gets us to introduce ourselves before having us slowly move to the next room.

We find ourselves surrounded by a whirl of sounds: a water fountain, birds, gravel underfoot. The group jostle, bump and laugh as we try to make our way through. It seems we've been transported to Central Park. I find my way towards a small tree and clasp it for support. It feels a lot safer than being on the busy path.

I think I've successfully found mayonnaise - it's ketchup.

It's then on to the next location: a supermarket. We touch the bottles and containers, trying to guess what we've acquired. I think I've successfully found mayonnaise - it's ketchup. Our guide asks my friend to find the milk in the fridge. She gets slightly flustered as the door shuts on her unexpectedly. After a second attempt, she manages to wrangle a bottle. It's a surprising amount of work for a task that was previously considered simple.

Next we're in a subway heading to Times Square. Kerry grabs my hand and asks me to identify what feels like a velvet-lined plank of cardboard. I have no idea what it could be. He laughs and tells me it's the inside of a guitar case.

On the subway, I can't find a seat and accidentally sit in someone's lap. By the time I find a spot, it's time to get off and face the busy Times Square crossing. On Kerry's cue, we cross the road. It's crowded and noisy as taxis honk and too many people talk at once. I feel flustered and out of control and I hate it.

Thankfully, we're led to a quiet room where the lights brighten. In front of us stands Kerry, more than 183 centimetres tall and wearing a fantastic pair of Wayfarer sunglasses. He asks us how we found being temporarily blind. Fear seems to be the common thread.

Kerry admits that for the first three years of blindness he was fearful all the time. He then shows off his favourite iPhone apps, extolling the virtues of technology for the blind. He thanks us personally for coming, hoping we'll keep trying to go beyond sympathy to empathy.

As we leave, I think about the World Trade Centre memorial two blocks away and how our world is full of fear and darkness, regardless of whether we're blind or not. And maybe that, more than anything, is what I take away: amid all this fear and darkness, there's still empathy to act as a guiding light.