Duncan Meerding

Jun 16, 2021
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Condition: Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON)

1. What is your profession and why did you decide to choose this field?

I am a lighting and furniture designer/maker. I run a design practice that creates lights and furniture with an artisan/artistic feel. I have always had an interest in making things. I did not initially think I was going to get into this field as a career option when my vision first degenerated in 2005. In fact, whilst at university, I thought I was going to either go into a career as a historian or a social worker. Whilst at university studying things like history and sociology I found out about a course offered by Vision Australia, teaching blind/low vision-specific skills. I went over and took the accelerated course (as it was on the Australian mainland and I lived in Tasmania (there is a pretty large stretch of water between the two)). After this crash course, I got in contact with my university's furniture design department and the lecturer at the time Linda Fredheim was open to having me try out the course, with them and me working things out a bit as we went. The department and fellow students overall were very open-minded and the design mentality fitted in quite well in terms of working out different ways for me to do things. After university, I applied for the Designed Objects Tasmania Springboard Scholarshipin 2010 and I managed to have quite a few successes in my first year as a practitioner. Things kind of flowed on from there and I now run my practice from my own workshop/studio facility with some great guys helping me out as part of the team.

2. What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

Doing what I love every day but also being challenged each day. I recently started some different teaching in design making and I have found this particularly rewarding also, being able to pass on blind/low vision-specific skills in how to use tools and work out ways of making things in what many people consider a sight dominated profession.

3. What is your advice to all the other VIP around the world who don't believe they can be successful in the area of their interest because of their disability?

This question is in and of itself a display of some of the problems. I think we cannot look at blind and visually impaired people in isolation from society. A lot of the reason we face adversity is due to barriers which are placed in our way on a daily basis by society. Whilst I do not believe that once you have had the success you are in a realm of success by itself, I have had a range of achievements in the mainstream which would have me considered to be 'successful'; from having lights commissioned by Google HQ in Singapore, to winning an international peer judged award called the DARC Lighting Awards in 2018. Whilst I have had a range of successes, I still face barriers. I am a proponent of what is called the social model. This focuses more heavily upon how a person is disabled by society, than their medical disability.

Whilst we cannot post-modernize away the fact that we have some form of a medical situation that led to our disability, I think the focus needs to be adjusted in dialogue away from the medical, more to what barriers are placed in the way of blind/partially sighted people in terms of succeeding. One example is today I had a freight issue, and the company emailed me an inaccessible jpeg of the letter and a hard copy. If simple things like this were looked at in terms of a universal model of access I would be less disabledby society more broadly. The sheer number of things that are inaccessible from public to private entities on a daily basis would surprise many in the sighted world. So, what I would say to others who are facing barriers due to their vision impairment/blindness is to understand that everybody faces challenges, but if these challenges look to be because of inaccessibility and due to barriers placed in your way, be prepared to self-advocate and keep the social model in mind when things are feeling to be a challenge.