creative blind bat

July 3 | 2015

“how do you do this?” – that is a question I get asked often, whenever new people I meet get confronted with the fact that I’m a designer having a visual impairment. As short as the question is, the answer is not that simple. There are quite a few factors at play, apart from me sticking my nose to the screen.

the basics

first things first, let me briefly explain about my eyesight. Many people see either blind or normally sighted, ignoring everything in between. Which exlains why many refer to me as “the blind designer”. This is mostly due to thousands of eye conditions that can’t always be spotted at first sight, literally. As for my case, once I am in a familiar place, I act “normal” enough so people often forget about my eyes, which then might lead to the other extreme where I’m being seen as normally sighted.

while being “blind” is easier to capture mentally, low vision become more tricky. Each and everyone has different issues to deal with, even if they have the same percentage of eyesight. Other additional factors like health, stress level, light conditions, hardware and many other things add up and create a complex individual representation of reality. Since all of these additional factors are hard to capture, the regular eye exam gives at least a part of this big picture. This is especially helpful for accessibility matters, where some common ground is crucial to deliver to the audience. I have tried to capture and visualize a part in, which shows how I see a photo on a screen.

the possibilities

I’ll spare you all the full medical report, all you need to know is that I only have one eye, which is shortsighted (with about 5% eyesight, going up to 20% when wearing contacts). For my graphical work, just like most designers, I am using a Mac. They have a really good  screen magnification built into the operating system and a high quality screen that allows me to work longer preiods of time without straining my eye. Another crucial thing for me is the way I can navigate and use the system along with the software. Each user has their own little tricks, but my goal is to work efficiently without having to “look” too much. This might sound odd since I have to use my eye to create designs, so here’s an example: I would arrange my dock icons in a way so I can distinguish them by color. So lets say I want to open Illustrator. On my doc, the icons have a specific order. Photoshop is blue, Illustrator orange, InDesign magenta. I am unable to see those icons even from a small distance, but I do see the colors. A larger mouse cursor helps me to navigate and would enlarge the icon as soon as it hovers. Et viola, I  open my program without having to “look” at it. I use this method throughout my work process along with keyboard shortcuts, so I can focus my eye on the actual project.

the downside is, I am not very flexible when it comes to other working environments. While a normally sighted designer has no problems to work on a PC instead of a Mac, this creates an unbreakable barrier for me. Due to the huge differences in navigation and the operating system, not to mention the screens, combined with a poorly made GUI, a proper workflow isn’t possible anymore. It forces me to spend more resources in finding my way through the system, which wastes the necessary energy for the project itself. It might sound trivial, but the consequences can be severe. The risk of errors in the end results is not only much higher, but I’m more prone to miss them, especially when I am straining my eye over and over again for a simple task such as to open a file in a folder.

human errors

speaking of errors, this might make you wonder if this might be something that is more common to happen to me than to a normally sighted designer. The answer is relative – which applies to everyone else. Just like anyone else, I do make mistakes too. As I stated above, the likelihood of errors increases if I don’t have the right tools for the job. However, due to common prejudices regarding my disability, I am more under eyes than others. If I make a mistake, no matter how big or small, it automatically weighs more than for others, who are likely to get away with it. In my case it can cause others to question my capabilities and my work comes much more under scrutiny. An incident from a past job illustrates this perfectly: A co-worker has requested something. All works had to follow a CI guideline, that was previously set up by the agency. I had sent if off, but the co-worker replied to me, complaining I have made an alignment error. I tried to find the error they referred to, but couldn’t find anything. I even let another co-worker look at it, they couldn’t find anything either. Hours later, I looked at the template that I was required to use and guess what I found? A small tiny mismatch between a guideline and the last letter in the highest zoom level, in which it wasn’t even possible to move objects around. Mind you, this was the template provided by the agency putty download , but I was to get the blame for any mistake, real or imagined. I solved it by notifying the co-worker to report his issue to the agency, which CC’d while replying to them. Somehow, they didn’t have any more complains since then…

the limits

we all have our limits, so do I and some of them are due to my  visual impairment, I’m not gonna lie. I am going to bring those up that are relevant to my work as a designer. Because I only have one eye, reading too much would strain my eye muscle from the monotone and constant movements. It gets even worse when I have to read on paper. That is why I do not code or read books for example. Stereoscopic vision also won’t work, so that makes things like 3D are quite of the question.

in conclusion

I hope this article has explained it well and you now know how a legally blind designer like me can get her job done. If there are any questions though, don’t be afraid to ask.

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