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"What stop sign?!" Some thoughts on being a legally blind UX Engineer and Visual Designer

One Summer day when I was about 15, my Dad and I were driving back to our rural home in Western NY state. Dad pulled the extended cab, full-bed, 22' truck over and said, "Hey Kitten, how about you drive us the rest of the way home?". I replied "Uh, ok Dad.".

We were just coming into our one-stop-light town and we switched seats. I started up the truck and got back on Main Street. I was cruising along and I remember Dad saying "Now look for the stop sign." I confidently replied "Ok Dad....what stop sign?!." and proceeded to blow right through it. Needless to say, Dad had me pull the truck back over, after what I thought was a masterfully handling of the truck for a mile, and he drove us back home.

That day was when I realized that I am different from other people, and I could use it to an advantage if I played my cards right. I share this because there are silver linings in any situation, you just have to choose which one you will take action on.

"Legally blind" encompasses a range from about 20/200 (with corrective lenses in the best eye, which I have been most of my life) to complete blindness. Meaning what a person with 'normal' vision sees at 200', a legally blind person will see at 20'. I frequently wonder what it would be like to have 20/20 vision. It is really incomprehensible to me what most people are actually able to see. It's like a superpower! Currently I am around 20/500, which makes for some very funny moments at times, but the interesting part is that I realize just how amazing the brain is in order to interpret and fill in the visual gaps. I have slight double vision in normal to bright sun/lights, but since this development, most times I really have to concentrate to see the secondary/tertiary halos now because my brain has said "Yeah, that's not REALLY what it looks like." and actually adjusts it's perception. I find that absolutely intriguing!

Many times in my career I have had people ask me how I can, effectively, work in the design sector in the many types of highly visual positions I have held over the years. To resurrect a phrase we all have heard, I see and 'think different(ly)'.

While my distance vision is insufficient for EVER driving a motor vehicle legally or safely, my near vision, within 12", is more than adequate to function very successfully in my professions. In UX/Visual design, I use my altered distance vision to be able to assess if the user has a clear path to their task at hand. I lean back and determine if the controls are obvious enough that the user will be able to effectively determine their next steps, and see what pops on the screen. My choice to see this as a silver lining has brought me great success, though I never rest on my laurels. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to bring my skills to the table.

On On-Prem working: I won't say, though, that I function 'normally'. In in-person meetings where someone is displaying their screen, frequently you will find me walking up to the end of the room and standing right next to the screen, or hovering near the whiteboard, pen in hand. My teams have gotten used to this (my head popping in front of everything :-)), and frequently they will release the slide deck to me to be able to follow along seated, on my laptop. While team members don't have to alter their behavior much, I have come to realize that everyone I have worked with has been extremely accommodating when the need arises. Most don't even know I am legally blind until they see me at my computer.

On Remote working: For professionals like me, remote working is, indeed, a blessing. I have mastered the art. With remote working, I am able to have all of my apps and tools (and adjusted lighting) on a large monitor, within my range of vision and, with conference calls and screen/file sharing, my velocity is incredibly fast as we plow through issues and possible solutions.

I just wanted to put this out there to try to drop a little education and to spark a change in the perception of differently-visioned professionals. I am grateful for what I have, and better yet, I am thankful.

Peace. (mic-drop)

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