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Design By the Blind, for the Blind

Lamar Anderson tells the story of architect Chris Downey, who lost his eyesight six years ago but has persevered in his career first as a consultant and then as the lead architect for the new Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco.

Anderson's article examines Downey's unique history, about how he became blind, his decision to continue his career in a visually-oriented field, and the challenges he encountered along the way. Then there was the serendipity that solved process challenges. For instance:

  • "With a good bit of tinkering, Downey and his trainer got it to print floor plans from PDFs. It was a lucky fluke. The PDF format is common currency in the architecture profession, and having a piece of technology that could read it meant he could participate without asking anyone to adopt another technology."
  • Downey uses "brightly colored wax sticks" as "an informal tool for sketching on top of working plans."

After discovering such enabling process refinements (and more), Downey also found a niche in the architecture business—one that provided a robust consulting practice, even during the recession: "Far from being unemployable, Downey found himself in possession of a rare combination of skills. Here were two groups that had little in common: blind people and the hypervisual architects who design spaces. In the Venn diagram linking them, Downey was a set of one."

The long read article includes a lot of more details about how Downey's experiences with blindness have changed his perception of space in a way that benefits not only the blind, but others with special needs that might be inadequately addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (or, for that matter, how well ADA requirements are implemented and enforced by the design and construction industries).

Full Story: How a San Francisco Architect Reframes Design for the Blind


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