Design within Reach: Profile of a Blind Architect

The Atlantic magazine recently profiled Chris Downey and provided insight into Universal Design for a mainstream readership:

ONE MORNING LAST FALL, Chris Downey, an architect, ran his long white cane across a pair of floor-tile samples spread out at his feet in the San Francisco office of an architecture firm, SmithGroup. Gathered around him, a handful of architects watched. They wanted to know which tile he preferred for a new rehabilitation center for the blind at the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto. Downey looked up at Eric Meub, a vice president at the firm--not at him, exactly, just over his shoulder. "The one on the right is distinctive in either direction," Downey said. "The other one has a preferred direction." For a blind patient still learning to use a cane, that first tile would give more-predictable feedback.

There was an awkward silence. The other architects looked at one another. Downey chuckled. "So you're saying the one on the right is the one that doesn't look so good," he said, grinning.

Two and a half years ago, Downey had just started running the architecture practice at a stylish green-design firm. A few weeks after he took the job, he noticed something wrong with his vision. A tumor was wrapped around his optic nerve; he needed surgery right away. When he woke up, everything was blurry, but he could see. "Five days later," he said, "it all went black."

Read the complete article:

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