Thursday, May 2, 2013

Blind Raider Has a Chance to See

Richard Harlow, a Blind Raider, Dominates DPS Charts

Article By Summer Walker, originally published on GAMEBREAKER.TV

“There’s actually several characters in WoW that people haven’t really thought about that are blind,” said Richard Harlow, a blind raider in World of Warcraft. He told me that tidbit after I mentioned I was thinking about using the Burning Crusade baddie, Illidan, in an image for this article. “There’s a dragon in Black Wing Decent (Atramedes) that’s blind. The whole way that you did that fight was actually through sound. He would try to find where you were using sound. That’s my favorite fight in the game. Hands down.”

Richard Harlow, of Nanaimo British Columbia is a comedian, sociology student and a blind raider. He has beseeched the gaming community for some help paying for medicine that could bring back his sight. He has set up a fundraiser to pay for expensive medication that could literally cure his blindness. There is less than a week left to gain pledges that could turn this blind raider into a regular ol’ raider, which is probably something the average gamer takes for granted.

Harlow’s story is almost unbelievable. He was attending Emily Carr University in Vancouver studying 3-D animation and media arts when he noticed something was wrong with his right eye. He was loosing his sight. “That happened in June of 2009,” he told me. “By Thanksgiving of that year, I was legally blind in that eye. By Christmas the same thing started to happen in my left eye and then by March of 2010 I was legally blind.”

For a while it wasn’t certain what was wrong with Harlow, and it was going to be a long time before specific test results were in. It was decided that he should undergo chemotherapy and painful steroid treatments just in case it was some kind of cancer, which turned out not to be the case. He went through chemo for nothing. “If I would have not gone for the chemo then I probably would have felt that I did not do everything in my power to get my sight back.”

Harlow now knows that he has Leber’s optic neuropathy, a rare hereditary disease that causes the loss of central vision. The crazy part is: there’s a possible cure. It’s basically a bottle of pills that costs a minimum of $12,000. The estimated length of the treatment would likely cost more along the lines of $24,000 for Richard. It is expensive because the disease affects such few people that it is hard to cover costs for making the drug. Insurance companies don’t pay for it and neither does his Canadian health care.

Yes, he is a blind raider

The night before our interview, my team pulled Harlow into our raid. We needed a DPS, and he agreed to come. To be 100% honest, I was concerned. We had spent the past few raid nights wiping on a boss with complicated mechanics. Throwing a blind guy into the mix didn’t seem like the best idea. I changed my mind after our team got the boss down in one shot. While running to the next fight, I checked out the damage meters. He beat out five regular members of our 25-man team… and he wasn’t even on his main character.
I knew from listening to segments on different WoW podcasts that he can see about 1/8th of the screen at any given time, and even that is blurry. “I try not to trick people or anything like that,” he said. “I quite simply identify as a blind person. It is a lot easier to explain blindness than it is to explain legal blindness.”

“A lot of people say ‘Oh hey, I’m legally blind when I don’t wear my glasses.’ Well…you haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor saying that you cannot see and need to use a white cane or use a guide dog.” Then he added, “Some married couples are like ‘Oh yeah, my partner’s deaf’ well no, that’s actually only when YOU are talking to them.” Yeah, Richard is always cracking jokes.

So, I asked him: How the hell do you raid if you can’t see?

“Addons!” he exclaimed with a little more enthusiasm than I thought appropriate. He was being sarcastic because he had answered this question hundreds of times.

“I use addons that use beeps and sounds and whatnot to kind of help me out.” He uses GTFO to stay out of the fire. Many WoW players know that Weak Auras allows you to visually make prompts for when things occur in game, but it also has auditory prompts, which helps Richard in particular. He has another addon that notifies him of when his health is low because “Dead DPS does no DPS.”
Harlow said that without voice communication in Mumble—which is how this interview was conducted—it would be really hard for him to do much. He also pays close attention to the game. “Every Boss has its own sound file that you can memorize what it is associated with. You can memorize things that the boss does… except for Sindragosa. God, I have nightmares of that fight still from Wrath.”

“My raid awareness is actually quite possibly better than some people who can see because some people tunnel-vision, but with me I only have peripheral vision so it’s impossible for me to do that.”

Being a blind raider hasn’t stopped him from progressing in the game. When he is on his Warlock, even the best players will have trouble keeping up with him. One of his favorite moments was when he received his legendary staff during the Cataclysm expansion. He is particularly proud of this accomplishment because it required him to raid in the Firelands, which was all red with very little contrast.

Although WoW is known as being an accessible game, Blizzard recently took out the ability to use the “follow” command in PvP battlegrounds. That move was controversial among visually impaired players. I asked about it, and it turns out that it didn’t affect him at all. “I don’t /follow people,” he said. “If I’m PvPing with a small group of friends, I will maybe put an icon above their head so I can know that person is my buddy and I can easily glance at that person’s head and know I should follow him.”

Every Date is a Blind Date

Richard Harlow has used his disability as a subject for laughter as a standup comedian. I asked him if he had ever dreamed he would do something like this. “Nobody really has a dream for taking abuse in a public setting… When I grow up I wanna go on stage and have people heckling me,” he jokes.

Actually, he has had a positive reaction from the crowds. “With my standup comedy, I kind of use self-deprecating humor to talk about my disability and bring awareness to it in a way…At my last show I had a father come up to me and say that his daughter was blind and that my work is inspirational.”

And then Tom Green got involved. In a video on his YouTube channel, comedian Tom Green interviews Harlow about his situation. He is trying to get word out about the fundraiser. Green and Harlow met after the blind raider/standup comedian won a contest to be able to open for him. Green said that after the show he didn’t even realize he was having beers across from a blind guy until he noticed the walking stick. Harlow told me that was pretty typical because he gets around pretty good. “There are tricks.” In a restaurant where he can’t read the menu, he will say, “Tell me what your special is!” and nobody will be the wiser.

Harlow’s online fundraiser ends on May 3rd. He is trying to raise $12,000 online and another $12,000 by holding events in his home of Nanaimo. You can find him on his Facebook page or @Richard_Harlow on Twitter. He hopes to go on tour someday and is available for comedic performances. And he’s a damn good Warlock.


  1. What an amazing story! And I am glad that his reduced ability does not stop him from doing what he wants.

  2. My cousin's maid of honor was blind. When I met her, I just assumed she was blind drunk - it took me a while to realize that she was blind AND drunk.