Working & Chronic Illness

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy has written many times about the fact that he went to architecture school for his undergraduate and graduate degrees. What I have talked about less often is the hybrid career track that I have followed during the last decade, and how I balance living with rheumatoid arthritis and my work.

When I was in graduate school I took a year off to work as an intern at Autodesk, the maker of AutoCAD and other architectural software products. This was right around the time with the first web browsers were released, and when the internet as we know it started to bevelop. One of the company’s first web projects crossed my desk, and I was sold.

Right around that time, I became aware of some emerging design fields that really interested me – user interface design, interaction design, and information architecture design. When I returned to school in Cambridge to complete my thesis year, I decided that as soon as I graduated I would return to San Francisco and look for a job in this area. Interestingly enough, all of the skills that I had just learned in architecture were perfectly transferable to this new industry.

For the past ten plus years, I have been working with the design of software applications and web sites, in some form or another. At the same time, I have also worked on architectural projects big and small (the current one involves lots of adobe bricks and hand carved stone). I haven’t once regretted pursuing a career which encompasses multiple design fields. (Although I am always being asked by clients and recruiters: Which one do you really like? They don’t seem to understand that these different design projects have become so intertwined, that I consider my career track to be a single – albeit hybrid – one.)


Six years ago, I made the decision to leave my full-time office job (with benefits and all), and start working as an independent design consultant. I have worked on the user interface design of large retail consumer sites and on the information architecture design of complex accounting and content management systems. I have worked on projects from multiple locations. At any given time I am dialing into a client meeting from the U.S., Europe, or South America. Internet telephone and high speed broadband has provided me this flexibility in my work environment.

This increased flexibility has been a good thing (I love how it’s about what I do, and not where I do it from), especially because my rheumatoid arthritis begin to appear at right around the same time when I started working independently. In one way this was a blessing in disguise – while commuting into an office might be particularly difficult on a flare day, walking into my home office is often much more manageable.

I have always informed my clients that I live with rheumatoid arthritis, and that the ups and downs of my illness are very unpredictable. I have never received anything other than kind words and a lot of support and understanding. I usually give them a heads-up when I am entering a particularly bad flare, and the most time I have ever needed to take off was three work days (during which time, I am proud to say, no deliverables were delayed!).

During the past nine months my rheumatoid arthritis has undergone a pretty severe progression, but with each day I continue to learn how to manage all of the activities that I need to accomplish. Launching and managing this blog over the past few months has given me a lot of confidence, and has allowed me to continue refining my professional skills. On the absolute worst days, I still find pleasure in designing, writing, and interacting with others – and I am thrilled that this blog has allowed me to combine my personal life with my professional life.

I am determined to continue working with and expanding my design and creative abilities, despite the fact that I live with rheumatoid arthritis.

The title of this year’s World Arthritis Day (October 12, 2009) is “Let’s Work Together”. This theme considers the challenges of work, be it paid employment, voluntary work or work at home supporting a family, and embraces people with rheumatic diseases, healthcare professionals and employers.

For the past few months I have dedicated myself almost full-time to this blog, as I continue to look for and explore consulting opportunities. I anxiously await my next contract job (don’t worry, this blog won’t suffer if/when I find that consulting gig!), and hope that by World Arthritis Day, I will be able to share news that I am gainfully employed.

At the moment, what is holding me back is the economic downturn, and not my rheumatoid arthritis. (That’s one way to put a positive spin on this recession, no?)

If you, your organization, or someone you know is in need of consulting services in the areas of web design and development, information architecture, or user interface design, please do keep me in mind! I have worked for large corporations and for small organizations, on projects ranging from two weeks to two years.

Hey, it’s not every day that you can hire a superhero!

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy’s design portfolio and resume can be viewed online at

Together, we can continue to show the world the abilities of people living with disabilities.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!