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Vivid audio described viewing for visually impaired
Photograph: Daniel Boud

What is it like to go to Vivid if you’re blind?

Emma Joyce
Written by
Emma Joyce

“You can’t see! Why would you want to go to Vivid? What’s the point?” That’s what 68-year-old Rachel Lazarov tells us she often hears in response to her attending the biggest winter festival of light, music and ideas in the Southern Hemisphere. But the Bondi resident says determinedly, “You don’t have to see; you can imagine.”

Lazarov was born in Bulgaria and lived her early years in Israel. She was diagnosed with retinal detachment at 19 and spent 30 years trying to retain her sight. In 2002, she lost both her legs as the result of a train accident. Today she is totally blind and she walks with the aid of prosthetic legs.

“When I called up to book a helicopter ride around Sydney, the man thought I was joking,” she says. “The guy said to me, ‘you can’t see. Are you sure you want to go on a helicopter?’ I said yes! We went along the beaches and he described everything to me.”

That’s how Lazarov experienced Vivid Light for the first time – through detailed description. It was part of a group tour led by Sydney Opera House in which a specially trained tour guide describes the light projections to blind or visually impaired visitors through a headset.

Rachel Lazarov (front, standing) during an Accessible Tour for Vivid
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Sydney Opera House accessibility manager Jenny Spinak explains: “We set up chairs on the Western Broadwalk facing the sails. Participants get these headsets and they can hear very clearly, without all the other noise around, the audio describer who’s giving the tour session. He’s been trained specifically by Vision Australia to provide the service.”

“Participants who are blind and low visioned come with their partners, friends, or family and listen to Steve. It’s all live. There are other tactile elements: we give the participants a tile of the Opera House to feel what the lights are being projected on to and a little model of the House so people who are blind get a bit of an idea of what they’re looking at.”

This will be the third year Sydney Opera House has offered the experience. Spinak says the feedback from these tours is that it’s a good opportunity for the partners and family of those who are blind or visually impaired as well, because they can both listen and enjoy the description at the same time, instead of the partner or family member fulfilling the role of describer.

The tours are free to attend and wheelchair accessible. For those with low vision there are tablets with images of the projections so you can view the images up close. This year’s projections are called ‘Songlines’, featuring artwork by Indigenous artists Karla Dickens, Djon Mundine, Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi, Reko Rennie, Donny Woolagoodja, and the late Gulumbu Yunupingu.

Tours take place on Mon Jun 6, Tue Jun 7 and Wed Jun 8, at 6.15pm. There are 30 places on every tour and registration is essential. Call 02 9250 7175 or email

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