Brown sophomore Daniel Solomon uses his sense of touch to interpret "Circle Dance," a sculpture by artist Tom Friedman installed on Waterman Street. All photos by Nick Dentamaro/Brown University.

Date April 30, 2024
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Daniel Solomon: Visualizing a more inclusive, accessible future through public art

Through the installation of educational public art in urban neighborhoods, the Brown sophomore hopes to inspire mutual understanding of the blind and visually impaired community.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When most people meet Daniel Solomon, they don’t assume he’s blind.

“They look at me and say, ‘Well, you don’t look blind,” he said. “And my answer is, ‘OK, so what exactly does a blind person look like?’”

Interactions like those — which he said happen too many times to count — are a part of a larger collection of misguided notions that mold perceptions about who blind or visually impaired people are, what they’re capable of and how they go about daily life.

Solomon, a sophomore at Brown concentrating in urban studies and political science, has been on a mission to reshape such perceptions since he was a kid growing up in Miami. And he hasn’t slowed down since coming to College Hill.

Since arriving two years ago, Solomon co-founded and serves as president of the student organization Blind@Brown, which brings together students who are blind, visually impaired or low-vision with allies for peer support and advocacy.

“If we want to get serious about inclusivity and accessibility, and if we really want to advance the place of blind people in our society, we need to do so not just structurally, but culturally,” Solomon said.

This academic year — in collaboration with fellow sophomores Rishika Kartik, who is pursuing an independent concentration in disability design, and Zoe Goldemberg, a Brown-RISD dual-degree student studying materials and engineering and apparel design — Solomon is bringing to life a project called “The Blind Urban Subject.”

Part public art installation and part research project, “The Blind Urban Subject” involves the modification of a sightseeing binocular — those structures at vistas and parks where visitors can pop in a quarter to get a better view of the landscape — to present examples of ocular dysfunction. The binocular is set to be placed near campus at the busy intersection of Angell and Thayer streets in Providence, where sighted people can experience a simulation of how individuals with different eye diseases or disorders operate in urban American life.

I was firm in my belief that even if Brown didn’t already have the infrastructure set up to suit my specific needs, I knew that Brown is a community of people who would work to make sure that I would be able to succeed and thrive.

Daniel Solomon Class of 2026
Daniel Solomon uses a cane to cross a street intersection

“Blindness doesn’t function in a silo,” said Solomon, who is project director of “The Blind Urban Subject.” “It’s something that affects us all, and it’s never limited to one specific model or framework.”

The project creators plan to produce a case study in partnership with faculty in Brown’s program for urban studies to analyze the installation’s impact on public perception of the blind community, and a grant from the Brown Arts Institute will help offset some of the project’s costs.

“Though it’s intentionally very student-driven, we’re trying to work across the University to really make this an interdisciplinary project,” Solomon said. 

students look at tower viewer
From left, Zoe Goldemberg, Rishika Kartik and Daniel Solomon inspect the sightseeing binocular that they will modify in the Brown Design Workshop. 

The willingness of so many students, faculty and staff to contribute to “The Blind Urban Subject” is emblematic of why Solomon chose to attend Brown: He was less interested in whether a school was configured for blind students, and more interested in its culture and driving philosophies.

“I was firm in my belief that even if Brown didn’t already have the infrastructure set up to suit my specific needs, I knew that Brown is a community of people who would work to make sure that I would be able to succeed and thrive,” he said. “And that has proven true, time and time again.”

When he’s not in the classroom or working on “The Blind Urban Subject,” Solomon participates in the urban studies and political science departmental undergraduate groups and serves a peer mentor at the Curricular Resource Center, where he co-organized last year’s Theories in Action symposium.

Solomon also teamed up with Kartik to co-instruct a group independent study project (GISP) with more than 30 student participants, titled “Blindness, Arts and Media,” which analyzed how blind people interact with the arts. 

Though he particularly enjoys weaving his advocacy and experience into the fabric of his education, especially in classes focused on social policy, Solomon said he cherishes the diversity of thought he encounters in Brown classrooms.“I feel like every class I’ve taken, I’ve left with a new sense of understanding and a new perspective,” he said.

In fact, it was an introductory urban studies course taught by Lecturer Lauren Yapp that directly inspired his latest endeavor. Students were required to conduct a study of a specific urban area, and Solomon chose the intersection of Angell and Thayer. After sitting there for hours on end, observing and taking notes on how people interact with the busy stretch of traffic, Solomon said the seeds of “The Blind Urban Subject” began to take root.

Fabrication work on the sightseeing binocular recently began, and the team is working with representatives from the City of Providence to get the public art structure installed soon. Solomon dreams of taking “The Blind Urban Subject” on a city-wide tour, setting it up at other busy locations downtown or in the Jewelry District.

It’s all about getting people to see life through a new lens.

“Blind people can do anything sighted people can, they just might do it a little differently,” Solomon said, paraphrasing one of his inspirations: Virginia Jacko, CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. “When people approach the intersection, or any intersection, I hope they think about what it’s like from different perspectives and take away a newfound sense of understanding.”