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Lights, Camera, Inclusion: Life as a Visually Impaired Actor

Chris Swensen is a visually impaired actor successfully navigating the entertainment world - from top improv theaters to Hollywood.

Professional head shot of visually impaired actor Chris Swensen - she's wearing a ruffled dress and smiling broadly

Hi, I’m Chris – and I was born with less-than-perfect vision. The medical stuff mystifies me to this day, but the easiest way to explain it is to say that I’m super near-sighted. For those who want the official medical terms, I have encountered a retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts along the way.

I know – that might sound like a lot, huh? But my vision has stayed pretty much the same throughout, give or take a line or two in that fun eye chart.

Sure, there are days when I scream to myself “Why me?!” But they’re far and few between, and I allow myself to play the “woe is me game” for a little while then I snap out if it and go on with my day.

As an adult, I always go back to what my mom would say to me: everybody has something to deal with. You might not see it, but they do. My thing is just more obvious.

Setting my mind on a competitive career

My mom also instilled in me that I can do whatever I set my mind to – which could be what led me to one of the hardest career paths. Nooo… I’m not a brain surgery or a microbiologist. I’m an actor and improviser. Yup, what other career is based so much on looks? Up until recently, if you looked just a bit different, people weren’t sure what to do with you. Fear not though: I have been able to seek out and continue to seek out people who believe in me and give me some amazing opportunities.

As an actor, I’ve been lucky enough to play all sorts of roles, including a pregnant woman who will do anything to survive in “The Coming” and a beyond-quirky witness in “Panteon Woods.” And, as an improviser, I have performed at Second City, iO, and The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago.

Life behind the scenes

 I’m originally from New York and I’m an adventurer at heart. I have zip lined over Niagara Falls and have splashed around in Class 4 Rapids in Alaska. I’ve gone horseback riding on Mt. McKinley and crossed the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver. I have also traveled through parts of Europe on my own.

I’m always looking for my next adventure. Someday I want to go hang-gliding and ride in a hot air balloon. And you know what would be really cool? To be cast in a role where I drive (since I can’t for real)!

So, basically, I’m just a girl who can’t see great hoping to show the world that different is okay and to inspire others that are different to know anything is possible – you only have to do it your way.

About the author

Growing up with limited vision, Chris Swensen never wanted to be defined as “that visually impaired girl.” She just wanted to be known as a girl…who, just happens not to see perfectly. This mindset has followed her through her whole life. Her lack of vision has never stopped her from obtaining any goal she has set for herself.

To learn more, visit Chris’s website, check out her IMDb profile, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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