Designing an Accessible City

Chris Downey is an architect who suddenly went blind in 2008, after surgery to remove a brain tumour. In his TED talk, he shares his “outsights”—insights he’s gained since losing his sight—and uses humour to explain the fears and misconceptions “of moving through the city without sight, seemingly oblivious to the environment and the people around you.”

Downey uses the comparison of his sighted experience and his unsighted experience of the same places and people to create a new way of understanding the city around him. He shares a number of ways that the city is good for the people who are blind, some of them serious and some lighthearted. He describes his experience as “so much more multisensory.” He also shares how much help and advice he gets; in one city, Oakland, on every block someone shouts out “Go for it, brother,” or “God bless you.” “I didn’t get that, sighted,” he says with a smile.

He talks about how designing cities with the people who are blind in mind would help create a wonderful, accessible place for everyone. “You’ll have a rich, walkable network of sidewalks, with a dense array of options and choices, all available at the street level.” He also talks about how sidewalks would be predictable and generous, and how the spaces between buildings would be well balanced between people and cars. It would be a city with a well-connected, accessible mass transit system, and “a more inclusive, more equitable, more just city for all.”

To listen to Chris Downey’s TED Talk, Design With the Blind in Mind, click here.