“Don’t be your speed bump” is a phrase that means a lot to Ryan Hudson-Peralta. It has been his guiding principle (and official motto) for many years. Hudson-Peralta, designer, artist, and motivational speaker, wants these words to inspire everyone to identify and follow their dreams, regardless of obstacles. Obstacles are something many are familiar with. Born without hands and severely short legs, he’s faced more than his fair share.
It is difficult for Hudson-Peralta to perform many tasks in a world built for people without disabilities – and even more difficult is the way some in the community have treated him over the years. At the age of eight, he told his teachers that he wanted to be an artist, only to tell them it simply wasn’t possible because he didn’t have hands. In a daze, he told his grandfather what they said.
He said to me, ‘Ryan, you’re going to have people questioning you every single day of your life, but the only person in this world you need to believe in is yourself. From that moment on, there was no stopping me. I knew that if I believed in myself, then everything would be possible, and everything would be possible. ”
Fast-forward by many years and Hudson-Peralta is now a successful producing designer, artist, motivational speaker, father, husband, actor, and model. Based in Detroit, he is a product designer for Rocket Central – the central hub of the Rocket Companies fintech platform. In this role, he assists Rocket Mortgage, Rocket Homes, and sister companies with their product and design needs. He is also an outspoken advocate of accessible design. He’s a longtime fan of Photoshop and Adobe XD, and uses both in his career – albeit in a slightly different way than most.
Learn to draw and design without hands or relying on feet
Hudson-Peralta’s path to becoming a successful product designer began with his love of art. As a child, he would paint with his feet – but as he got older, he realized he needed a way to stay seated and still paint. So he started drawing with a pencil between his chin and his shoulder.
At the age of twelve, he turned his love of drawing into a business, creating and selling greeting cards. It was a visit to a comic book store that changed his life. “I met an artist there and he showed me a poster he made for the shop. I asked him how he did it, and he said ‘Oh, I used photoshop.’ Then it was over — I convinced my parents to buy a computer and Photoshop for me. I fell in love with computer drawing,” he says.
Since Hudson-Peralta draws with his chin and shoulder, it simply wasn’t possible for him to use a Wacom tablet because he couldn’t see the screen and draw at the same time (models with a built-in screen were simply too expensive in the ’90s). Instead, he learned to draw digitally with a mouse, which he continues to use as his primary design tool to this day. He quickly learned how to do professional work with Photoshop, started making logos and expanded his business into web design.
“This whole process has taught me to be confident. I’m far from perfect – I talk to other designers with disabilities, and I’d hear that confidence in their heads too. We don’t have a choice. Anyone who has a disability and wants to get into design, just do it. Trust yourself. And take the first step, which is to start and stay positive.”
Break into a career in design and fight stigma along the way
Coming of age, Hudson-Peralta continued his pursuit of an artistic career. He spent two years at art school in Detroit but found it very difficult to study and follow the curriculum with his disability (the need to rely on books to learn the material was a particular challenge before e-books – holding a book and turning the pages was difficult). Frustrated, he instead focused on his current design work. Building on his success in freelance work, he built up a portfolio and started applying for design jobs to take his career to the next level.
“I was looking for local companies I could work for. I emailed my work to one company and they replied that this was one of the greatest they’ve ever seen. And then when I showed up for the interview, I could have appeared without a head – literally Jaws on the floor.” He didn’t get the position.
Hudson-Peralta shoots a video showing his workflow.
Unable to find a full-time design job, Hudson-Peralta continued to build his practice. He did so for seven years, with his son all the way and eventually working with the US Army as a civil servant. It was this gig that led him to Rocket Central, where he’s honed his UX skills and where he’s been a designer over the past nine years.
From graphic design to user experience and accessible design
“I’ve always been able to see things a little differently because of my disability,” Hudson Peralta said, sharing the story of how he got into user experience design. Like all great designers, he can see user problems at the heart of friction and frustration – including some that others might miss. “I’m 3’6”, so I literally see life from a different perspective.
He remembers the moment he fell in love with the idea of product design – the moment that led him to where he is today. “When the first iPhone came out and I used the first touchscreen app, everything changed for me. I was able to use my phone with my arms and my feet. I fell in love with the idea of making things, especially easy-to-use apps.”
In addition to his full-time career as a product designer, Hudson-Peralta dedicates time to sharing his story to help inspire other aspiring designers with disabilities to pursue their dreams.
To this day, Hudson-Peralta still brings the same enthusiasm for “making things” into his work at Rocket Central, who most recently designed the Rocket Homes Real Estate app. For this purpose, and most of his user experience work, he uses Adobe XD to design, create prototypes, and share his creations. Already a long-time Photoshop and Illustrator user, it was this familiarity with the interface that helped him easily transfer his drawing skills into his design and prototyping workflows.
Find video games to inspire accessibility
Living with a Disability has made Hudson-Peralta a natural user experience designer, and it’s also given him a call to make products more accessible. He points to video games as an example software can and should follow – studios around the world are making strides to build accessibility features in games. He teamed up with video game maker Naughty Dog, creator of Uncharted and The Last of Us to help make games more accessible to people like him.
“I don’t know of a game with better accessibility features than what Naughty Dog did in The Last of Us. They have a lot of accessibility features in that game – everything you can think of, for example for people who are visually impaired or who have mobility challenges,” he says. .
“We see holistic marketing all the time now, and I feel it’s getting better. To be truly holistic product designers, we need to think beyond our own toolkit. We need to think about other people’s tools,” he adds. Despite ongoing challenges, Hudson-Peralta believes we’re headed toward an accessible future — noting that innovations in sound design are having a special impact on people with disabilities.
“Whether you have a disability or not, just get started. Design it, design it, share it”
Ryan Hudson Peralta
Hudson-Peralta doesn’t smudge the words about the underrepresentation of designers with disabilities. Throughout his life, there were not many mentors, peers, or examples in the media of someone born like him achieving success in design. That’s why he feels it’s so important to be visible and upfront about his work and his journey.
“Kids told me they wanted to be a designer and didn’t think they could do that until they saw my story. It’s incredible being able to be involved. I always tell them, ‘The first step to getting started is getting started.’” Open XD, create an interface, and build a prototype. I like to be able to quickly prototype something, have an idea in my head, put the interface or wireframe together and send it to my phone and give it a try. Aspiring designers with disabilities can also do it.”
While the tools have internalized, to some extent, and Hudson-Peralta is proud of the impact he’s made in his work and advocacy, he admits there is still a long way to go in eliminating disability stigma in the profession. Globalism. In his opinion, the best way to change is simply Act Valuable advice for everyone.
“Begin to have faith in your work. Whether you have a disability or not, just start. Design it, build it, share it. The more people you share with, the more feedback you can get, and the more you can improve your business and get closer to your dreams.”
To find out more about Ryan Hudson-Peralta, follow him on Instagram or subscribe to his YouTube channel.