Design Meets Disability with Amar Latif

During the week, we were given a great opportunity to speak to an inspiration man – Amar Latif – who came in to help us gain insights for our most recent masterclass, Design Meets Disability.

When it comes to Design Meets Disability, I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Amar. Why? Because he’s blind. Maybe you’re thinking “So what? There’s millions of blind people, what makes Amar so special?”. Let me tell you.

Amar’s blindness struck at the age of 20, just 2 months into his university degree, Mathematics, Statistics & Finances. Naturally, the university suggested he change course but Amar wasn’t prepared to let the fact he could no longer read stop him from getting his degree so he made do with audio notes and graduated like everyone else. He then went on to work as an accountant for British Telecom for 7 years.

Amar still wanted to see the world but hated being treated like excess baggage, “the problem in seat 26”. So in 2005, Amar took part in a documentary on BBC 2 called “Beyond Boundaries”. The idea behind this documentary was to have a remarkable group of people, all with different disabilities, walk 220 miles from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific through South America.

To conquer this challenging voyage, teamwork was key. Amar joined forces with Ade Adepitan – who you might know if you watched the Paralympics this year. Amar pushed Ade’s wheelchair while Ade told him where to go – in other words he was the eyes of the team.

Perhaps this was the inspiration behind what Amar is known for today. The thing that makes Amar such an inspiration. He realised that if he wanted to see the world without feeling like excess baggage he either had to make do without… or create a service that provides such an experience himself. And that’s what he did.

Amar is an entrepreneur. He founded a company that allows for independent travel for the blind which he called Travel Eyes. With destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas they provide something for everyone whether it’s unique and exploratory or quiet and relaxing. They travel in groups of 20, 10 sighted (who get 50% off in exchange for acting as guides for the blind) and 10 blind. It’s a great opportunity for people to make friendships spanning across continents and oceans creating fantastic memories together.

But Amar hasn’t stopped there. He’s currently developing an app for the blind called Liberty Innovations. It’s essentially a guide app which at the moment has a variety of restaurants upload their menus so the blind user can have their device read the menu out to them. Amar envisions that this app could one day enhance other experiences for blind people such as a visit to a hotel or museum.

Amar couldn’t speak more highly of Apple technology and how inclusive it is for blind people. You’d think a touch screen would be a nightmare for the blind but the iPhone’s voiceover function proves otherwise, allowing him to hear what he’s touching on screen. Not to mention Siri which now makes using the phone even easier whether you’re blind or not. As Amar said himself, Apple’s technology is amazing and hugely inclusive for the blind.

Meeting Amar Latif was a great privilege and hugely valuable to our design process. His positivity seemed to be contagious as everyone in the room hung on his every word as he proved that with the right attitude, anything can be achieved if you want it enough.

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