Ari Kerssens has been a passionate champion of access since 2018, when he began volunteering for Retina New Zealand on their youth committee while studying at university. Becoming connected and immersed within the blind community seeded his understanding of the systemic, cultural barriers our wider disability community faces.
Born legally, but invisibly blind, identifying as “disabled” or “blind” was the last thing he wanted to do – his own disability was seldom on his mind when he could don some glasses or contact lenses and manage relatively well. which perfectly exemplifies the cultural awareness of disability – or lack thereof – most of the world has.
Becoming functionally blind at 19, due to a genetic condition, was a sudden and profound transition in Ari’s identity. No longer could he pursue his 2 year career as a makeup artist. And nor could he ever again. At least, that’s what he thought. But we’ll get back to that.
Instead, armed with an all-too-common internalised stigma against disability, Ari resolved to do what he could to cure and prevent blindness, graduating with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Auckland in 2019.
“My attitude to disability shifted dramatically over the course of my degree. After joining Retina NZ, and networking within the wider disability community, I came to a profound realisation;
“Blindness, disability – that’s not the issue. the issue is within the systems and environments we design around us as a society.”
Our cultural understandings of physical, systemic, informational, and functional design are based upon deeply inaccessible foundations – by virtue of the invisibility, the lack of presence of disabled people, in the design process – due to existing access barriers. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s a negative feedback loop we call the status quo.
It’s the reason why, as a 19 year old who suddenly lost his sight, I believed I could never do makeup again – a huge part of my identity and something I was deeply passionate about. Technology that would enable a blind person doesn’t exist currently – but without this thinking; this awareness of the space beyond the status quo, or what could be, it never will.”
Ari reinforced this future-focused paradigm of thought over a year’s study at the pioneering Global Centre of Possibility in 2021.
His degree granted Ari an in-depth biological understanding of disability seldom seen in the sector, giving him the knowledge to design and implement systems that are not just theoretically, but experentially accessible.
His 9 years’ lived experience of blindness tops out Ari’s unique trifecta of social, intellectual, and experiential understanding of disability and accessibility, and Ari is eager to utilise this unique perspective and insight, and to work with as many organisations as possible, to create a world that is better and more accessible for everybody – creating universal beneficial outcomes for customers and businesses alike.