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Friday, March 14, 2008

If You Could See What I Hear

If you haven’t been hiding in a cave, you know that big changes are happening in New York State. Don’t worry. I don’t plan to write about Elliott Spitzer, the dumb jerk. There’s something much more exciting to write about.

David Paterson (correct spelling).

When Lt. Gov. Paterson becomes governor on Monday, he will be the first Black governor of that state, and he will become the first vision-impaired governor in the nation. Way to go, David!

When just three months old, an ear infection moved to his optic nerve and left Paterson legally blind. He cannot see out of his left eye, and the vision in his right eye is 20/400. That means that something which could be seen with normal vision at 400 feet would need to be just 20 feet from him in order to be seen.

Despite the visual impairment, Paterson graduated from Columbia University and Hofstra Law School. He spent 20 years as a state Senator in New York and was elected Lt. Governor in 2006. He’s pictured above with his beautiful wife Michelle Paige Paterson at that swearing-in ceremony.

As I step up on my soapbox (soon as I find it with my cane), I’ll exclaim gleefully at the conversations this move has engendered in the media and, hopefully, in personal conversations.

Let’s face it. The mental picture that’s conjured up at the mention of “blind person” is not one of an accomplished professional. The average person thinks of a lonely person sitting poverty-stricken in a dark room. The reason? Darn few people have experience with low-vision people. When was the last time you saw a blind person in an office building or restaurant or mall? And because they’re not out there, both the sighted and sightless are robbed of valuable experiences, primarily how to work together for mutual benefit.

As a low-vision person, I’ve encountered many helpful, sensitive people who give me help when I need it without making a big deal out of it. That’s the good way. I’ve also met folks who are uncomfortable, awkward or just plain rude. As I’ve worked to get past my own embarrassment and ask for what I need, I’ve also realized that I can be a teaching tool for sighted people.

This is what I hope the experience of nearly-Gov. Paterson will be on a much larger and grander scale. I wish him success for his sake and for that of his family, but also for every visually impaired person in this nation who’s wanted to try something, but has been afraid. I also wish him success for the sake of sighted people who will now “see” that brains work even if eyes don’t. Technology abounds to help visually disabled people, and there’s much they can accomplish.

Congratulations, David Paterson. You’re a role model and a distinguished example of achievement.

1 comment:

Willow Goldentree said...

I love what you wrote. :)

I think I told you that Glen's brother has been blind in one eye since his childhood. Aside from my husband, of course, he is one of the most intelligent men I've met. He works for Microsoft and has designed many of the programs we use today.

Congrats Mr. Paterson!