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  • So, stepping down out of the bus,

  • I headed back to the corner

  • to head west en route to a braille training session.

  • It was the winter of 2009,

  • and I had been blind for about a year.

  • Things were going pretty well.

  • Safely reaching the other side,

  • I turned to the left,

  • pushed the auto-button for the audible pedestrian signal,

  • and waited my turn.

  • As it went off, I took off

  • and safely got to the other side.

  • Stepping onto the sidewalk,

  • I then heard the sound of a steel chair

  • slide across the concrete sidewalk in front of me.

  • I know there's a cafe on the corner,

  • and they have chairs out in front,

  • so I just adjusted to the left

  • to get closer to the street.

  • As I did, so slid the chair.

  • I just figured I'd made a mistake,

  • and went back to the right,

  • and so slid the chair in perfect synchronicity.

  • Now I was getting a little anxious.

  • I went back to the left,

  • and so slid the chair,

  • blocking my path of travel.

  • Now, I was officially freaking out.

  • So I yelled,

  • "Who the hell's out there? What's going on?"

  • Just then, over my shout,

  • I heard something else, a familiar rattle.

  • It sounded familiar,

  • and I quickly considered another possibility,

  • and I reached out with my left hand,

  • as my fingers brushed against something fuzzy,

  • and I came across an ear,

  • the ear of a dog, perhaps a golden retriever.

  • Its leash had been tied to the chair

  • as her master went in for coffee,

  • and she was just persistent in her efforts

  • to greet me, perhaps get a scratch behind the ear.

  • Who knows, maybe she was volunteering for service.

  • (Laughter)

  • But that little story is really about

  • the fears and misconceptions that come along

  • with the idea of moving through the city

  • without sight,

  • seemingly oblivious to the environment

  • and the people around you.

  • So let me step back and set the stage a little bit.

  • On St. Patrick's Day of 2008,

  • I reported to the hospital for surgery

  • to remove a brain tumor.

  • The surgery was successful.

  • Two days later, my sight started to fail.

  • On the third day, it was gone.

  • Immediately, I was struck by an incredible sense

  • of fear, of confusion, of vulnerability,

  • like anybody would.

  • But as I had time to stop and think,

  • I actually started to realize

  • I had a lot to be grateful for.

  • In particular, I thought about my dad,

  • who had passed away from complications

  • from brain surgery.

  • He was 36. I was seven at the time.

  • So although I had every reason

  • to be fearful of what was ahead,

  • and had no clue quite what was going to happen,

  • I was alive.

  • My son still had his dad.

  • And besides, it's not like I was the first person

  • ever to lose their sight.

  • I knew there had to be all sorts of systems

  • and techniques and training to have

  • to live a full and meaningful, active life

  • without sight.

  • So by the time I was discharged from the hospital

  • a few days later, I left with a mission,

  • a mission to get out and get the best training

  • as quickly as I could and get on to rebuilding my life.

  • Within six months, I had returned to work.

  • My training had started.

  • I even started riding a tandem bike

  • with my old cycling buddies,

  • and was commuting to work on my own,

  • walking through town and taking the bus.

  • It was a lot of hard work.

  • But what I didn't anticipate

  • through that rapid transition

  • was the incredible experience of the juxtaposition

  • of my sighted experience up against my unsighted experience

  • of the same places and the same people

  • within such a short period of time.

  • From that came a lot of insights,

  • or outsights, as I called them,

  • things that I learned since losing my sight.

  • These outsights ranged from the trivial

  • to the profound,

  • from the mundane to the humorous.

  • As an architect, that stark juxtaposition

  • of my sighted and unsighted experience

  • of the same places and the same cities

  • within such a short period of time

  • has given me all sorts of wonderful outsights

  • of the city itself.

  • Paramount amongst those

  • was the realization that, actually,

  • cities are fantastic places for the blind.

  • And then I was also surprised

  • by the city's propensity for kindness and care

  • as opposed to indifference or worse.

  • And then I started to realize that

  • it seemed like the blind seemed to have

  • a positive influence on the city itself.

  • That was a little curious to me.

  • Let me step back and take a look

  • at why the city is so good for the blind.

  • Inherent with the training for recovery from sight loss

  • is learning to rely on all your non-visual senses,

  • things that you would otherwise maybe ignore.

  • It's like a whole new world of sensory information

  • opens up to you.

  • I was really struck by the symphony

  • of subtle sounds all around me in the city

  • that you can hear and work with

  • to understand where you are,

  • how you need to move, and where you need to go.

  • Similarly, just through the grip of the cane,

  • you can feel contrasting textures in the floor below,

  • and over time you build a pattern of where you are

  • and where you're headed.

  • Similarly, just the sun warming one side of your face

  • or the wind at your neck

  • gives you clues about your alignment

  • and your progression through a block

  • and your movement through time and space.

  • But also, the sense of smell.

  • Some districts and cities have their own smell,

  • as do places and things around you,

  • and if you're lucky, you can even follow your nose

  • to that new bakery that you've been looking for.

  • All this really surprised me,

  • because I started to realize that

  • my unsighted experienced

  • was so far more multi-sensory

  • than my sighted experience ever was.

  • What struck me also was how much the city

  • was changing around me.

  • When you're sighted,

  • everybody kind of sticks to themselves,

  • you mind your own business.

  • Lose your sight, though,

  • and it's a whole other story.

  • And I don't know who's watching who,

  • but I have a suspicion that a lot of people are watching me.

  • And I'm not paranoid, but everywhere I go,

  • I'm getting all sorts of advice:

  • Go here, move there, watch out for this.

  • A lot of the information is good.

  • Some of it's helpful. A lot of it's kind of reversed.

  • You've got to figure out what they actually meant.

  • Some of it's kind of wrong and not helpful.

  • But it's all good in the grand scheme of things.

  • But one time I was in Oakland

  • walking along Broadway, and came to a corner.

  • I was waiting for an audible pedestrian signal,

  • and as it went off, I was just about to step out into the street,

  • when all of a sudden, my right hand

  • was just gripped by this guy,

  • and he yanked my arm and pulled me out into the crosswalk

  • and was dragging me out across the street,

  • speaking to me in Mandarin.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's like, there was no escape from this man's death grip,

  • but he got me safely there.

  • What could I do?

  • But believe me, there are more polite ways

  • to offer assistance.

  • We don't know you're there,

  • so it's kind of nice to say "Hello" first.

  • "Would you like some help?"

  • But while in Oakland, I've really been struck by

  • how much the city of Oakland changed

  • as I lost my sight.

  • I liked it sighted. It was fine.

  • It's a perfectly great city.

  • But once I lost my sight

  • and was walking along Broadway,

  • I was blessed every block of the way.

  • "Bless you, man."

  • "Go for it, brother."

  • "God bless you."

  • I didn't get that sighted.

  • (Laughter)

  • And even without sight, I don't get that in San Francisco.

  • And I know it bothers some of my blind friends,

  • it's not just me.

  • Often it's thought that

  • that's an emotion that comes up out of pity.

  • I tend to think that it comes out of our shared humanity,

  • out of our togetherness, and I think it's pretty cool.

  • In fact, if I'm feeling down,

  • I just go to Broadway in downtown Oakland,

  • I go for a walk, and I feel better like that,

  • in no time at all.

  • But also that it illustrates how

  • disability and blindness

  • sort of cuts across ethnic, social,

  • racial, economic lines.

  • Disability is an equal-opportunity provider.

  • Everybody's welcome.

  • In fact, I've heard it said in the disability community

  • that there are really only two types of people:

  • There are those with disabilities,

  • and there are those that haven't quite found theirs yet.

  • It's a different way of thinking about it,

  • but I think it's kind of beautiful,

  • because it is certainly far more inclusive

  • than the us-versus-them

  • or the abled-versus-the-disabled,

  • and it's a lot more honest and respectful

  • of the fragility of life.

  • So my final takeaway for you is

  • that not only is the city good for the blind,

  • but the city needs us.

  • And I'm so sure of that that

  • I want to propose to you today

  • that the blind be taken as the prototypical city dwellers

  • when imagining new and wonderful cities,

  • and not the people that are thought about

  • after the mold has already been cast.

  • It's too late then.

  • So if you design a city with the blind in mind,

  • you'll have a rich, walkable network of sidewalks

  • with a dense array of options and choices

  • all available at the street level.

  • If you design a city with the blind in mind,

  • sidewalks will be predictable and will be generous.

  • The space between buildings will be well-balanced

  • between people and cars.

  • In fact, cars, who needs them?

  • If you're blind, you don't drive. (Laughter)

  • They don't like it when you drive. (Laughter)

  • If you design a city with the blind in mind,

  • you design a city with a robust,

  • accessible, well-connected mass transit system

  • that connects all parts of the city

  • and the region all around.

  • If you design a city with the blind in mind,

  • there'll be jobs, lots of jobs.

  • Blind people want to work too.

  • They want to earn a living.

  • So, in designing a city for the blind,

  • I hope you start to realize

  • that it actually would be a more inclusive,

  • a more equitable, a more just city for all.

  • And based on my prior sighted experience,

  • it sounds like a pretty cool city,

  • whether you're blind, whether you have a disability,