David Paterson is the legally blind, outgoing, Governor of the Great State of New York.  He was an abject failure as Eliot Sptizer’s replacement and the residents of New York have been biding their time until he finally disappears from office in the dark of night.

In a depressing, final, interview with the New York Times this week, Paterson talked openly about his disability and how he and his parents were ashamed of his blindness:

He never learned to read Braille, as about 50 percent of blind children did at the time he was growing up. Instead, he used what little sight he had in his right eye to read with high-powered glasses, attending regular classes in a public school.

That decision was driven by his parents, Basil A. Paterson and Portia Paterson, who were determined to shield him from any stigma and insisted that they would not place young David in special education classes.

I find it shameful that Paterson’s parents refused to get him the right education he deserved because they didn’t want him “stigmatized” by his disability. He didn’t get the special help he needed and deserved:

The report did its best to excuse Paterson’s disastrous handling of the franchise. “Given the governor’s visual impairment,” said the report, “he did not consult the finalized memo” that analyzed the six bidders in detail during the September 23, 2009 key meeting with legislative leaders and top staff, “or at any later point.”

Of course, Paterson’s sight issues have little to do with why he wasn’t exposed to all the key facts in the memo. The Times reported long ago that “he receives all his briefings orally,” and he didn’t seek anything beyond Kiernan’s scant car-ride rendering. He is also one of the 10 to 20 percent of the partially or wholly blind who are employed and can’t read Braille.

If you are unable to read on your own, and write on your own — you are functionally illiterate — and reading about David Paterson’s life history, you begin to see a smart man who is fearful of fending for himself in a sighted world, and who has always had to rely on the paid kindness of others to meet his daily needs:

To this day, he uses a pair of high-magnification glasses to read letters and write personal checks. But he is able to focus on reading and writing for only a few minutes before the strain overwhelms him. During his years as governor, aides have read daily briefings, newspaper articles and personal correspondence into a special voice mail system for him to listen to.

Mr. Paterson, who is proud of the way his parents raised him, said in an interview that his life would be no less difficult had he learned Braille because Braille has its limitations, too.

“I don’t think things would have been easier for me if I had learned Braille because there’s a point that you get to in Braille where they can’t Braille everything for you,” he said. “You can’t Braille the daily newspaper.”

David Paterson is full of excuses and denials.  He’s a sad, sorry, small man — who still refuses to confess the limits of his disability while being led around by those around him — and the responsibility for his infantilism as a disabled adult belongs squarely at the foot of his parents’ doorstep.

David Paterson’s parents marginalized him early in his life by refusing to wholly address his blindness and by not letting him get the specific, separated, learning he needed to become a whole man and an infinitely successful human being.

Blind children need to learn to read and write Braille because Braille gives them breadth and depth and ingenuity and the ability to think and feel and access independent learning on their own.  Blind children cannot just solely rely on their ears to “read” by having things read to them.  Blind children wanted to look up to David Paterson as a shining example of what their life could be, but instead, they were forced to turn a blind eye away from an eyesore of a man who failed to rise to the challenge of the most powerful position in the Great State of New York because he allowed his disability to define his inability to govern.


  1. Displaying my ignorance here but I assumed that
    all blind children had access to an education and
    learnt to read braille.
    Inspiring and profoundly sad tale.

    1. Hi mjcache —

      When Paterson was a child, only 50% of blind children were taught to read and write Braille; and today, that number is less than 10%. We need a legal requirement that all children must be functionally, independently, literate by say, age 10, and if that forces the blind back into Braille, then that’s a good thing!

      There’s a similar story arc about Deaf children not learning sign language today as they did a generation ago because of cochlear implantations — we’ve covered that in several other stories in our blog network — and that makes them culture-less and functionally illiterate, too.

    1. We need to do something to guarantee we can all read and write some sort of shared language. If we are not demanding and vigilant of at least that, then we’re in a dire situation where we cannot express ourselves to be understood by others, and we cannot understand what others are saying, and others have no idea what we’re trying to say.

    1. That’s right, Gordon. You can always learn Braille. There no age limit. We need to force students, and their parents, into truly appreciating the need to be literate and understood in writing and in comprehending what has been written.

  2. It is shameful. My next-door neighbors are profoundly deaf. They have two hearing children — one is six and one is almost two. The six-year-old is in kindergarten with my five-year-old son, and there have been multiple issues since the start of the school year with the poor child being able to get in the house after the school bus drops them off (in front of my house). (I have condensed this dramatically; more to the story is not always helpful.)

    In short, the parents communicate by yelling at the top of their lungs, reading lips and writing. You can imagine the safety issues that this could pose for young children. One day, I asked the little girl if she signed and she had no clue what I was talking about. She’s never heard of sign language.

    1. Thanks for sharing that important story, Julie.

      Non-Disabled parents of disabled children tend to want their children to be like them — born perfect in their image — and so they ignore and mainstream and pretend — while the disabled child suffers, and is left out, and struggles to to accept the disability that the parents will not acknowledge. It’s hard on the parents to rightly raise a disabled child, but it is their moral duty as a parent to do what is right for the child and not was is easiest for the them.

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