Episode 7: Chris Downey

Episode 7: Chris Downey


Christopher Downey, architect, planner, consultant, and founder of Architect for the Blind.

Chris lost all sight in 2008 and is recognized for his exemplary leadership in accessible design and his dedication to creating an enriching and helpful environments for people who are blind or visually impaired.


Chris is also a Board of Directors for the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind.


For more information, you can visit: http://arch4blind.com/


Architect, planner, consultant, and founder
(Architect for the Blind)

Article written by Sophia_Eve

Episode 7: Chris Downey

Christopher Downey is an architect, consultant, and planner who also founded Architect for the Blind. He has made significant contributions to the field of accessible design via the work that he has done. In 2008, he was blinded by a traumatic encounter that led to the rest of his life being turned upside down. Downey did not let this handicap hamper his career; rather, he embraced the challenge and committed himself to design places that were enriching and useful for those who were blind or visually impaired. Because of his remarkable leadership in accessible design and his dedication to making other people's lives better, he is now widely recognized as a prominent person in this area of study.

Background and Career

Before Chris Downey began having issues with his vision, he enjoyed a successful career as an architect that spanned more than twenty years. He was well-known for his abilities to create unique homes as well as cultural organizations that won awards for their architecture. His designs garnered praise from a variety of sources.

Unfortunately, in 2008, Downey underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, which caused him to lose his vision. The procedure was successful in removing the tumor. The technique did not yield the desired results. In spite of this enormous challenge, he persisted and finally became one of the extremely few blind architects who is now working anywhere in the world; as a result of this, he has made an unforgettable imprint on the community of architects.

Accessible Design and Its Impact

As a result of the exceptional experiences that Downey has had in his capacity as a blind architect, the concept of accessibility in architectural design has undergone a fundamental transformation. He collaborates with clients and design teams to create environments that not only increase physical accessibility but also offer a multi-sensory experience to those who have visual impairments. These environments may be improved via his efforts.

His objective is to make these settings as welcoming to people of all backgrounds as they can be. Because of the combination of sensory stimuli and clever design, those who struggle with their vision will have access to what Downey hopes will seem like a welcoming and engaging architectural experience.

Projects and Contributions

Downey, in his position as a consultant for architectural firms, has worked on a range of projects with the purpose of aiding persons who are blind or visually challenged. This work has been done with the intention of making life easier for these individuals. As part of his employment at HOK, he was responsible for the design of facilities that are navigable by people with impaired eyesight.

The Duke Eye Center and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Vision and Rehabilitation Tower are two examples of the kind of facilities that fall under this category. Both of these institutions can be found in Pittsburgh. The integration of design features such as lighting, visible signage, and textured strips helped to make these projects more accessible to users of wheelchairs and other assistive devices.

Additionally, Downey has developed facilities that are accessible to those who are either sighted or visually impaired, which is a commitment that the city has made toward the extension of public access. Because of his work with Gensler, a corporate technology campus in the Pacific Northwest was able to get tactile maps, signage, and other amenities designed for it. These aspects, which encourage diversity, were developed to be accessible to persons with a variety of sensory capacities in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Additionally, Downey had a significant part in the design of the bus deck at the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, which is four blocks long. He made the adoption of textured pathways his top priority and worked to reduce the number of interactions that might be startling for persons with a variety of impairments.


Advocacy and Leadership

Downey exhibits his dedication to the community of blind and visually impaired people by participating in the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind as both an architect and a member of the Board of Directors. He highlights the significance of accessible design in the process of developing a culture that is more accepting of persons of all abilities, and he is an advocate for expanding the general public's knowledge of the issues that are experienced by those who have visual impairments.

Recognition and Impact

The incredible trip that Chris Downey has taken and the things that he has done have attracted a significant amount of attention from the media. He has been highlighted in a great number of newspapers, and he regularly delivers speeches on the subject of how the built environment may be adapted to be more accessible to those who have visual impairments. Because of the ideas and experiences that Downey has had with accessible architecture, other architects, designers, and the general public have been inspired.

This has made it possible to improve the lives of millions of visually impaired people all around the world and has acted as a catalyst for positive change. In addition, Downey's singular viewpoint as a seasoned architect who does not have sight has enabled him to contribute to the development of surroundings that give not just increased physical accessibility but also a dimension of enjoyment in architecture experienced via other senses.

This has enabled him to play a role in the implementation of environments that offer both of these benefits. Because of his work, the way accessibility is viewed in architectural design has shifted, and the emphasis has shifted toward the creation of architectural experiences that are inclusive and exciting for those who have visual impairments.

Wrap It Up

Christopher Downey's perseverance and commitment to the cause of accessible design led him to transform from a sighted architect to a pioneer in the field. We no longer approach the creation of engaging environments for the blind and visually impaired with the same assumptions thanks to his wealth of architectural knowledge and novel perspective. Downey's dedication to inclusive design, along with his leadership and advocacy, has the ability to improve people's lives and pave the way for a more accepting and equitable society.

More Episodes

 Episode 1: Jared Smith


Episode 2: Ken Hayes


Episode 3: Susan Jones


Download for Revit
Seattle Website Design