26th February 2018
The Blind Counselors Helping People Face Themselves in the Dark
Few jobs are open to people with low vision in China — but entrepreneur Wang Yanlong is fighting to change that.
Like most psychological counselors, Wang Yanlong invites his clients to enter his office, sit down, and talk about their issues. In his case, however, the room is pitch-black. As Wang is blind, the lack of light doesn’t affect him. His clients, on the other hand, really open up, he says: “People feel humbled when they enter a dark space. It amplifies their feelings and forces people to face themselves head-on.”
As a freshman in college around five years ago, Wang began offering group counseling sessions as one of the many events he organized in the dark — another was “blind dates” for university students. After graduating last year, Wang turned his counseling workshop, Dark Enlightenment, into a company with three other full-time employees — two of them blind. Based in the eastern city of Ningbo, the organization has served more than 2,000 clients thus far.
It has been Wang’s dream to discover new ways for people living with visual impairments to contribute to society and make a living. Wang lost his eyesight in an accident when he was 16. For two years, he hardly left the house and fell into despair — growing up in a rural village near Xingtai, in northern China’s Hebei province, he had never met a blind person before.
In China, the estimated 12.6 million people living with visual impairments are largely invisible to the rest of society. The only vocational option for most is the massage industry. Since the 1980s, the government has promoted masseuse jobs as suitable work for people with visual impairments, and in its latest five-year plan, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation aims to train at least 50,000 new massage professionals and establish another 70 masseuse training centers.
It’s not easy for people with visual impairments to escape this essentially predetermined career path. Though Wang’s team once numbered around 20 people — half of them blind — many left the startup after graduation in search of more stable employment, with some choosing to become massage professionals.
Wang spoke to Sixth Tone about his ambitions over the past 10 years, the challenges in breaking down barriers for blind people, and his expectations for the future. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.