Eliza Cooper photograph - a smiling head shot Above: Eliza Cooper

Three years ago, Eliza Cooper was listening to a podcast in her college dorm room when she heard about Dialog in the Dark, a simulated blindness exhibit in Atlanta, GA. Dialog is an hour long experience where blind or visually impaired guides lead visitors through everyday environments in complete darkness. With the help of guides, visitors complete tasks such as crossing a street or navigating through a grocery store by only using their non-visual senses. Eliza, who lost her sight when she was three-years-old, was fascinated by the concept. “That is so cool,” she remembers thinking. “I want to do that.”

At the time, Eliza was finishing her senior year at Connecticut College where she was studying psychology-based human relations. Traveling to Atlanta to experience the exhibit wasn’t a possibility. She could only hope Dialog would open an East Coast exhibit in the future. Three years later, her wish came true.

In 2011, Dialog in the Dark New York City was announced. Lighthouse International, an official partner of the exhibit, assisted Dialog in staffing tour guides. Eliza, who moved to New York after graduating from college, received an email from Lighthouse International inquiring about her interest in becoming a guide. “I was so excited because I knew exactly what it was when I saw it,” said Eliza. “So I jumped right on it. I’ve been waiting for it for three years.”

Eliza has been involved with Lighthouse International since 2009, when she enrolled in the choir at The Filomen M. D'Agostino Greenberg Music School. “The Lighthouse is a great organization because it has so many services all in one place,” she said. “It’s a powerful resource.”

Through the help of Lighthouse International’s Career Services, Eliza was eventually hired as a guide for Dialog in the Dark. “It’s been really exciting,” she said. “I think everyone is going to get a lot out of it.”

For Eliza, educating the public on low vision and blindness is especially important. Born with abnormally small pupils and a lack of dilation muscles in her eyes, she developed glaucoma, cataracts and underwent multiple cornea transplants all before the age of three. She eventually lost her sight after an infection spread to both of her eyes. In total, Eliza has undergone 32 operations on her eyes.

It’s easy to understand why Dialog in the Dark is an important exhibit to Eliza. This is an opportunity for her to dispel any misconceptions the public may have about someone with low vision or blindness. “I can educate one person at a time out on the street,” she said. “But this is a great way to educate a whole bunch of people in a direct way.”

Eliza wants people to have fun at Dialog in the Dark, but also come away with a better understanding of what a visually impaired person is capable of achieving. “[In the end], they’ll realize I’m not weak, I’m not incapable,” she said. “Blind people are normal; they just get around in a slightly different, really interesting way.”

For more information on Dialog in the Dark New York City, visit www.dialognyc.com.

Support Lighthouse International in its mission to help the visually impaired live safe, happy, and independent lives. The Lighthouse depends on the generosity of people like you, so please donate today!

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