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‘What’s a blind guy from Canada going to tell NASA?’: B.C. writer asks

By: Metro Published on Thu Apr 13 2017

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Photo by Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Ryan Knighton, a creative writing instructor at North Vancouver’s Capilano University, truly never expected being enlisted by NASA.

But the travel writer and author of Cockeyed — a memoir about his experience of becoming blind as an adult — is headed to the U.S. to speak before space agency staff next Tuesday.

“It struck me as incredibly funny,” Knighton, 44, told Metro, laughing. “Like, what is a blind guy from Canada going to tell NASA?

“I have nothing to do with space.”

The invitation to lecture researchers and other staff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center lifted off thanks to his 2012 appearance on the immensely popular This American Life podcast.

But the organizer of Maryland-based Goddard’s leadership colloquium speaker series told him there was no need to relate his talk to space, science, or exploration in any way. They were particularly interested in the importance of workplace diversity.

“’Just do what you do,’” the NASA staffer told him. “‘You don’t need to try to speak to the space-like people.’”

“We typically think of diversity issues in the workplace as accommodation — how to accommodate people with physical differences and other very practical concerns — but we don’t want to erase the differences of points of view,” he mused. “In some ways, the friction of differences is where a lot of interesting stuff happens.”

“They’re not even necessarily tailoring the talks to subjects that seem relevant to NASA in an obvious way,” Knighton said, “which I think is a testimony to their curiosity.

“I make my career as a writer out of trying to figure out where I am. And I think that’s probably one of the most fundamental questions NASA asks about where we are in the universe and what’s out there.”

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