How can we offer DECIDE for elderly people who are blind or can hardly see? This was a challenge we took on when word-of-mouth about our microFUND “brain doping” DECIDE series prompted the Austrian Association for Blind People to invite us for this very special target group.
It was indeed a specific challenge – and a wonderful experience!
We were awaited by 13 people aged 60+ who did not know each other too well and a very supportive employee of the association. We had adapted the format by pre-recording readings of the stories and played one by one as an introduction to the topic. This already evoked an additional challenge: some of our participants were not only blind, but also hard of hearing. So we started with a microphone and soon moved the two groups into separate rooms, creating a more intimate atmosphere for the discussion within the groups.
Interestingly, the two groups turned out to be quite different in how they reacted to the DECIDE game – one had a quite light-hearted and personal discussion and a lot of fun during the creative work, the other was rather serious and well-reflected and then worked with a lot of concentration during their creative phase. It was great to see that both groups liked the event a lot.
The information and discussion phases merged, as the participants reflected on the different stories. As the moderator, I had info and issue cards lying in front of me and added their content when the discussion touched an issue where I felt further input could be helpful. As most of the issue cards are phrased as questions, this also brought in some new angles and sparked discussions. We did not end with the voting grid, as I felt that the questions from the issue cards had already activated them to state their opinions. So we came to a natural end with the question about which of their own traits they each would be willing to change with medication.
The second, creative part, required also some modification. Usually, people would draw or make collages on the topic of brain doping. The blind people got similar material, but identified them by touching, according to material, texture, size, smells. Each of them received a piece of paper with the contour of a head marked with a rough surface. They were asked to fill the brain as they thought adequate. The associations they made were remarkable, some funny, some very touching, when they finally explained them to each other.
They had sponges for absorbing knowledge, straws to fill in new ideas or for marking the distinction between left and right brain halves, feathers denoting the emptiness, medication or nuts as “brain food” to support brain function or even pennies “to be dropped”. They openly referred to their own handicap of not seeing well or not seeing at all, pointing out that their brain works just as well…
We all left assured that this had been a useful event, triggering not only discussions on a specific scientific topic relevant also to elderly blind people, but also new connections between the participants, who encouraged one another to engage playfully with arts and were curious to learn about each other´s thoughts.
We are hoping to continue working with this special target group.