Two and a half years ago, Downey had just started running the architecture practice at a stylish green-design firm. A few weeks after he took the job, he noticed something wrong with his vision. A tumor was wrapped around his optic nerve; he needed surgery right away. When he woke up, everything was blurry, but he could see. “Five days later,” he said, “it all went black.”
Downey returned to the office. But he couldn’t use design software. He couldn’t read plans. A few months passed, and the firm was caught up in the housing crash. Downey scheduled a talk with the owner, an old friend, to figure out how he could be more useful. He was at a workstation, up on a loft, when she came to see him, and he could tell by her footfalls that it wasn’t going to be the kind of conversation he had been planning to have.
San Francisco was full of laid-off architects. Downey could be pretty sure he was the only blind one. It turned out to be an interesting credential. SmithGroup and another firm, the Design Partnership, hired him as a consultant.