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How social media helped Karan ‘come out of the blindness closet’

May 02, 2024

Picture this, you’re an expert graphic designer with a successful marketing career. Your entire livelihood is almost completely dependent on this one visual task. One day, though, you decide to give it all up, not because you’re ready to retire, your vision simply doesn’t allow you to continue doing what you love. The sense of frustration you feel is overwhelming, even assistive technology can’t help. The situation seems hopeless, so, where do you turn?

For Karan Nagrani, the answer was social media, and it’s led him to become one of the faces of blindness and low vision advocacy in Australia.

Venting his frustrations

Karan, who has Usher Syndrome, a rare, degenerative condition, which will eventually lead to complete blindness, is a Disability Advocate, Speaker and blind content creator. Karan was aware his condition would impact his career at some point, but even so, he wasn’t quite ready once the time came.

“A lot of people said ‘you can use Zoom text and screen readers, but they don’t realise you can’t really use accessibility software when it comes to graphic design. So, for that reason, I had to retire, and I went through quite a lull,” he says.

During this ‘lull’, Karan experienced a lot of negative emotions, but his resilience and passion for graphic design urged him to seek an outlet for his frustrations via social media.

“I couldn’t believe it was over, but I said to myself, If I can’t do it professionally, I’m going to do it for myself. I’m going to create this account and I’m going to create content as a way of releasing frustration,” he says.

A man holding a white cane in the shape of a square.

Image description: There is large text in black against a yellow background. Text reads I’m so sorry I don’t “look blind” That must be so hard for you!! Below this, Karan is holding a white cane, which he has folded into the shape of a square to frame his face. Image credit: @karannagrani

Karan’s frustrations stemmed from more than losing his career, his repeated need to defend his own disability against the skepticism of sighted people created a lot of resentment.

“The most frustrating thing for a blind person is being misunderstood because a lot of people think blindness just means complete darkness. And when they see a blind person using a cane or a Guide Dog, who’s happily using their phone or taking selfies or making eye contact, it leads to a lot of suspicion,” he says.

Using his visual design skills, creativity and wit, Karan set out on a mission to clear up these misunderstandings and educate people in a fun and informative manner.

Creativity never sleeps

Even with his platform and newfound voice, Karan still faced a lot of skepticism, which he used and continues to use to fuel his content ideas. “That’s why I call it coming out of the blindness closet because when you come out of the closet, you’ve got to answer a lot of questions because people are looking at you in a skeptical way,” he says.

Skeptics aside, Karan’s creative mind is always in motion, sometimes he’ll even wake up in the middle of the night to jot down his ideas.

In addition to borrowing from his personal experiences, Karan also receives messages over Instagram from people in the blindness and low vision community who are equally fed up with having to defend their disability. Rather than use these experiences to garner sympathy, however, Karan uses humour to convey his messages, including imagining himself as an 80-year-old man and regularly comparing the health of his retina to everything from a stack of dishes to Iggy Pop.

“I honestly hate it when people pity you because you have a disability, which is why I make a point to add humor because that’s what helps me cope with reality,” he says.

A photoshopped image of an older man holding a white cane.

Image description: Karan has photoshopped himself to look like a much older man. He has a grey beard and hair and is wearing a blue-green flannel shirt. He is holding a white cane upside down in his left hand. To the right of Karan, text reads “Going blind isn’t stressful at all.” Karan Nagrani, 37 years old. Image credit: @karannagrani

A new career opportunity

Although Karan was not intimidated by the idea of expressing himself or his disability, he wasn’t sure anyone would pay attention or care about what he had to say. He couldn’t have been more wrong, though, as the ABC was quick to pick up on his content, effectively launching his career as a disability advocate.

“They were the ones who said, ‘this is amazing’, we need to do this! That is what got me thinking in that direction,” says Karan. He has since made several other media appearances as a disability advocate including for SBS.

A photoshopped image of man wearing a cape and holding a white cane.

Image description: Text reads: Happy white cane day!! Below is a photoshopped image of Karan wearing a flowing red cape and a black t-shirt, which reads: Blind Boy. He is holding a glowing white cane above in a triumphant looking pose. Image credit: @karannagrani

This was a great pivot for Karan as he is acutely aware there will come a time when he may no longer be able to create visual content in the same way he does now. Whether he chooses to continue pursuing it or not, though, his career as a disability advocate is only growing.

He has also expanded into a career in public speaking, sharing his story with others in the same entertaining and authentic way he has become known for. “It’s 100% because of the content I created that people showed an interest in me and my blindness. But I think it’s my life story in general which is entertaining. So, people do want to hear more about it,” says Karan.

There’s no one way to be blind

Although Karan supports any person with blindness or low vision who wishes to share their story on social media, he also advises no one should feel pressured to share their story for the sake of it. “When you’re ready, you’ll be ready. There is no one way to be blind. Everyone’s journey is different,” he says.

He also confesses the happy-go-lucky persona he or any other advocate content creators have created for themselves on social media should not be confused with reality, which is that they are like everyone else, experiencing the highs and lows of life.

“Life is a roller coaster, and at the end of the day, I would say make blind friends even if it’s online because the only people who will understand what you’re really going through are people with blindness,” he says.

You can follow Karan on Instagram @karannagrani or to learn more about his story and check out his awesome apparel, visit thatblindguy.co



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