Life After the Big E
Profiling the lives of blind people in the Fargo-Moorhead community
Allan Peterson came to work for the veterinary science department at North Dakota State University in 1977, after graduating from the University of Minnesota.
However, shortly after his arrival at NDSU, Peterson’s eyesight began to deteriorate. At age 33, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an ocular disease that causes progressive degeneration of the retina.
“Your vision gets narrower and narrower,” he said, “like you’re looking in a tunnel.”
In the late 70s, Peterson lost his peripheral vision. A few years later, his vision had narrowed to the point where he could no longer read the big “E” on an eye chart. In 1982, he was declared legally blind.
“I have very limited light perception, but that’s all I have left,” Peterson said. “I’ve lived half my life as a sighted person, and half my life as a person who is blind.”
But blindness has not stopped Peterson from living a productive life. After losing his vision, he taught himself how to find his way around with a cane, read Braille and use a computer without his eyesight.
Peterson has adjusted well to living without sight. He dedicates his life to serving his community and acting as an advocate for people with visual disabilities.
“I’m active in my church, active in the Lions club, active in community organizations,” Peterson said. “People are surprised to find that I function as well as I do, and am involved as much as I am.”
For many years, Peterson has played an integral role as a leader for the North Dakota Association of the Blind. Since 2010, he has worked as NDAB’s legislative liaison, advocating for legislation that benefits visually impaired people at the state and national level. In the past, he served two terms as the organization’s president and acted as the financial chairman.
Peterson also serves as chairman for the Walk for Vision, an annual fundraising event benefiting NDAB. As walk chair, his primary role is to promote public awareness of the event.
“Come and be a part of our walk!” Peterson said. “It’s not only about coming and participating, but it’s also going to be a learning experience.”
Half of the funds raised through the Walk for Vision are used to support Camp Grassick on Lake Isabelle, near Dawson, N.D. The camp focuses on providing information to adults who have recently experienced vision loss, and helping them to adjust to life with a visual disability.
The remaining proceeds are used to support several of NDAB’s other programs, including scholarships for sight-impaired students and funding the state convention on vision loss.
Peterson said he believes a person can have a great quality of life after losing their vision.
“Many people have that perception that you aren’t able to do anything,” Peterson said. “But life goes on after the big E. The world doesn’t stop turning! There’s so many things a person can do even though you don’t have sight.”
Although Peterson’s eyesight failed over 30 years ago, his vision of a bright future for visually impaired people is stronger than ever.