HKSB in the Media
Yes, Paterson’s ‘Legally Blind,’ But What Does That Mean?
LICH Ophthalmologist Helps To Define Governor’s Condition
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
March 14, 2008
by Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle And Frank Eltman Associated Press
BROOKLYN — When David Paterson takes the oath of office as governor today, among those watching with the greatest interest will be those who cannot see.
Much has been made of the fact that Paterson is “legally blind,” as opposed to totally blind, but what does that mean? The recent movie title “Legally Blonde” was a pun on the term, but few people got the joke.
Still, there are approximately 10 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States, and about 1.3 million of them are legally blind, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. Long Island College Hospital’s chairman of ophthalmology, Dr. Douglas Lazzaro, who is also chairman of ophthalmology at SUNY Downstate, recently discussed the term and how it impacts the state’s new governor.
Lazzaro defines the term “legally blind” as having “20/200 vision or worse.” It also means that one’s vision impairment cannot be corrected with glasses.
Those whose vision is closer to 20/200, said Lazzaro, can see colors and shapes; can read newspapers, books and computer screens with special tools such as font enlargers; and can watch TV, although the picture would appear fuzzy. Those whose condition is worse, however, might need more help, such as a telescopic lens to see the TV screen.
For obvious reasons, people who are legally blind cannot drive.
Paterson lost sight in his left eye and much of the sight in his right eye after an infection as an infant. By all indications, he tends toward the “more normal” end of the legally blind spectrum. He walks the halls of the state Capitol unaided, recognizes people at conversational distance, can read for short periods of time and has even played pickup basketball games.
Dr. Lazzaro met Paterson several years ago at a fundraiser for the Ophthalmology Department of SUNY Downstate Medical School. Paterson also has had a longtime affiliation with Helen Keller Services for the Blind, headquartered in Downtown Brooklyn, and went to one of the organization’s schools as a child.
Nowadays, added Lazzaro, the main cause of blindness in young people is childhood glaucoma, and the prognosis for recovery is greater than it was in the 1930s, when a young Ray Charles fell victim to the disease.
Paterson will be the nation’s second legally blind governor; Bob Cowley Riley, who lost his left eye in WWII and later lost vision in his right eye, served 11 days as governor of Arkansas in 1975. He had been lieutenant governor and finished the term of Dale Bumpers, who moved on to the U.S. Senate. Paterson, 53, also will be the state’s first disabled governor since Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was stricken with polio several years before he was elected to the position in 1928.
Maricar Marquez hopes that Paterson’s new prominence will help change people’s opinions about disabilities. Marquez, 36, is deaf and blind and communicates with the aid of two interpreters, but she still manages to work as an instructor at the Helen Keller center.
“Maybe with this happening, the government will be more sensitive to people with disabilities and provide better services for rehabilitation, education and maybe be more willing to be open-minded and understanding of the needs of people with disabilities,” she said.
Vincent Norbury, a 19-year-old student from Queens who attends the Helen Keller center, had some suggestions for the incoming governor:
“I think he should put Braille on more street signs and make some way that people with no vision can tell if the lights are changing in the street.”
Tracey Gilbert-Dallow of Port Washington, Long Island, a Helen Keller instructor who gets around with her guide dog, a large poodle named Marley, predicted Paterson “will have a big influence not just on blind people, but everyone.”
“He had all these challenges, and look where he is today. Just because you have sight don’t mean you can see. You see within yourself.”
© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2008