By
Marissa Nasiatka

Our Interview with Chris Downey

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Image of Chris Downey, an architect who is blind. He is bald and wearing a tan colored shirt and jeans. He is holding his walking cane and smiling at the camera. Behind Chris is an architect workshop, filled with prints/plans, building objects/tools, and 3-D models of buildings.

Chris Downey is an architect, planner and consultant; who unfortunately lost his sight in 2008 at the age of forty-five, after undergoing an operation to remove a benign tumor on his optic nerve. Chris continues to practice his profession and is dedicated to creating helpful and enhancing environments for the blind and visually impaired. One of his first projects as an architect after he lost his sight was to help design a facility for veterans with sight loss at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Chris’ work also includes renovations of housing for the blind in New York City, a clinic for the Duke University Eye Center, and the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco. He also teaches accessibility and universal design at University of California, Berkeley. 

Chris Downey sits on the board of Directors for the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco and was just appointed President of the California Commission on Disability Access. He is an avid rower and starts each day rowing on the Oakland Estuary with the East Bay Rowing Club. Chris has been featured throughout the mainstream media and speaks frequently about issues relative to visual impairments and architectural design. In 2013, Chris’ TED talk, Design with the Blind in Mind, spoke about accessibility and what a city designed for the blind would be like. 

Interviewed by our Different & Able Executive Director, Kristina Spiropoulos, Chris details how he specializes in designing infrastructure before and after his loss of sight. Chris talks about his role at Lighthouse for the Blind and his recent projects. Now through architectural modifications and the allowance of exceptional accessibility, Chris  makes everyone's life better, sighted or not. “Too often, it is our inability to see past the surface of disability to reveal the surprising ability hidden beyond the casual gaze,” says Chris.

 

Information for the biography provided by: Chris Downey | Speaker | TED

 

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