On Monday, March 17, 2008, David Paterson will be sworn in as governor of New York. He will be the first legally blind governor in U.S. history.
Fifty-three year old Mr. Paterson has been blind since childhood when he had an infection in his eyes. In a New York Times article, Mr. Paterson says, "I don't act the way I did when I was 17, like I can do everything myself, because I realized the minute I do that, no one helps me. So I learned to be a little more pragmatic about life." Mr. Paterson receives his briefings via lengthy voice mail messages from his staff, and so that he doesn't need to use notes, he memorizes all his speeches. He also says that he has felt more discrimination from his blindness than from his race.
"New Yorkers will no doubt discover that Mr. Paterson will take great interest in the details of governance and that this will require him to take sincere interest in people. He'll ask more questions than your average politician. And those who work in his administration will find that they are important not simply for knowing things but because they can describe how they learned those things in the first place. That's perhaps the most important thing for the public to understand about professionals who are blind -- we are by nature tireless in acquiring information, and we remember virtually every detail of what we read or hear."
For further interesting information - Penny Richards offers a comprehensive list of blind elected officials through history over at Disability Studies.