Architect Doesn’t Let Blindness Stop Him From Doing What He Loves

Before the holidays, a colleague of mine shared a fascinating story from a recent episode of 60 Minutes.

Chris Downey is an architect, husband and father who became blind in his mid 40’s. He was immediately advised to start thinking about a new career. Downey didn’t want to do something else. Being an architect was his passion and he refused to let blindness stop him.

So, undeterred, he figured out ways to not only continue being an architect, but in his own words, become a better one. He utilizes Braille printouts, malleable wax and his own observations as a blind man navigating the world to make more accessible buildings for everyone.

Check out the video:
https://vimeo.com/312158662

Chris Downy utilizes children’s malleable wax sticks to make modifications to architectural designs. Source: Architecture for the Blind

I can’t imagine going through what Mr. Downey went through, but seeing how he dealt with the challenge is truly inspiring. Developing a disability doesn’t automatically shut off all your interests, hobbies, passions, etc. Like I’ve said before, I love video games. Were I to lose my sight, I wouldn’t all of a sudden not want to play them anymore. I’d want to figure out any way to experience them and would be hoping that as many game developers as possible would make their products accessible.

Downey not only figured out ways to continue his career, but blindness gave him perspective he or any sighted person didn’t have. It truly made him a more accessibility-minded architect. And he’s seeking to create experiences that are usable and enjoyable for everybody – not just blind people.

You don’t have to join the ranks of a certain disability to be able to design better for it. We should learn more about all users of products, including those with obstacles of any kind. Some methods include interviewing, observing and user testing with disabled users.

Also check out:
Chris Downey’s TED Talk from 2015
Architecture for the Blind – Downey’s website

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