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A Blind Architect Accepts the Gift of His Limitations

Chris Downey had just started a promising architectural job at a successful design firm. A few weeks after he took the job, he noticed that there was something wrong with his vision. The doctors told him he had a tumor wrapped around his optic nerve, which required immediate surgery. After the surgery he could see with blurred sight; five days later everything went dark. Downey had become permanently blind.

Downey tried to maintain his architectural work, but he couldn't read the plans or use the design software. Initially, Downey's limitations jeopardized his job, until he found a blind computer scientist who had devised a way to read tactile architectural plans. Much to his surprise Downey discovered that his blindness actually gave him a unique way to "observe" interior spaces—not with his eyes, but with his fingers. As one of the company vice presidents would later say, "At first I thought, Okay, this is going to be a limitation. But then I realized that the way he reads drawings is … the way we experience space."

Downey is now able to use his fingers to "walk" through a space and "view" it from a different (and sometimes a better) perspective. Due to his blindness, he can also envision new possibilities for the creative use of space. As a result, his limitations, or weaknesses, have become gifts and strengths—not only for himself, but also for his community.

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