LITERARY JOY: Blind people listen to audio books made by volunteers at the Mind's Eye Library (COURTESY OF THE MIND'S EYE)
For sightless Liu Jianwen, much of the joy in life is found in an old-style Chinese courtyard compound. On the morning of April 2, he rose early and spent two hours on a jolting bus to reach the courtyard on a street west of the Drum Tower, the centuries-old symbolic building near downtown Beijing's North Second Ring Road.
Fumbling along several steps in front of the house, Liu found himself a seat in a room in which there was hardly any space among a TV, a DVD player and 40 chairs. There are 20 people seated on chairs already, waiting for a film to start with their eyes closed. The activity is to be accompanied by a narration special for the visually impaired.
It's 9:00 a.m.
Several minutes later, a middle-aged man walked in hastily, offering morning greetings to everyone. The audience cheerfully called him Dawei. His real name is Wang Weili.
The film to be shown was Ocean, a famous documentary.
The room soon became quiet when the film started. Gazing at the screen, Wang took a seat next to the TV and began to narrate in a low voice through a microphone.
"We are hearing the voice of the ocean. The scene is all green. We are getting close to the surface of the sea. Dolphins pass by. They look like sweet potatoes with sharp ends. They are chasing after small fish…" Everyone in the room keeps their eyes closed, with excited expressions on their faces.
Since 2005, visually impaired people have made more than 10,000 visits to the courtyard to enjoy films in this room, which is called the Mind's Eye Cinema.
As the founder of this nonprofit program, Wang narrates films every Saturday morning. He is proud to tell others, "We are the first in the world to narrate films for the blind."
The idea of film-narration came to Wang in 2004 when he invited a visiting blind friend to enjoy the Hollywood blockbuster The Terminator on DVD with his family. The friend told Wang he had never "watched" TV and would rather sit alone in the yard when the whole family watched the movie. But Wang asked him to try to listen to his film narration.
When the movie ended, Wang was surprised to see an excited expression on the face of his friend, and he knew he had found a new way to connect blind people with the world. In 2005, the Mind's Eye Cinema opened up for all visually impaired people in Beijing.
"Usually we pay much attention to helping the visually impaired with working skills, enabling them to look after themselves, but what really makes their world different from ours is the inequality in their right to access information. Without a comprehensive understanding about the real world, it is impossible for them to live with dignity," said Wang.
Wang said he thinks films and books can play an important role in making up for vision loss.
On January 29, he opened the Mind's Eye Library in another room of the same courtyard of the Mind's Eye Cinema, where blind people can listen to audio books provided by volunteers.