Before I answer this question, I would like to first thank all the commentators for their interest in my disability and their questions about the obstacles I have faced.
I lost my vision gradually throughout my childhood so that, while I could still read large print when I was ten or eleven, I could not when I was thirteen. Using a cane became necessary in my junior year of high school.
By the time I went to college (Brandeis) and grad school (Harvard) I was totally blind.
I started at Brandeis in 1968. These were the pre-personal computer dark ages. For all people, the personal computer has radically changed their lives; for blind folks, this change is downright revolutionary.
In college and grad school, virtually all my reading was done by sighted readers. Little of the material was in Braille or recorded. When working on my review of the literature for my doctoral dissertation, I broke my own personal record-35 hours a week of sighted readers for the entire summer to read absolutely everything I could find on my dissertation topic. And then there was typing. I did my writing on an electric typewriter. (Does anyone out there remember the electric typewriter?) Well the problem with typewriters for a blind person is that, if you get a phone call or otherwise get distracted, how do you figure out where you left off? And then there was the worst day of my academic life when I typed an entire chapter for a grant I was leading involving alternatives to institutionalization for developmentally disabled adults when I did not realize the typewriter ribbon had slipped. When my colleague told me that the twenty-five pages I had just given him were totally blank, I finally really understood what a bad day was.
And then God created the personal computer.
Part of the reason I am running for congress in NJ-5 involves my blindness. As you can imagine or know, it is not easy to be blind or otherwise disabled in a sighted or able-bodied world. But there is a great benefit to being blind. I learned what it really means to struggle. I learned how to respect all people who are struggling-with the limits of their bodies or the limits of their income or the limits of their parents’ income or the limits that society places on them because of their gender or choice of love partner or immigration status or race.
In my own case-a poor kid, totally blind, in Worcester, Mass-there was no way in the world that I could have gone to Brandeis and Harvard without a great deal of family and community and government support. No way! And this also figures into my politics. The money the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind invested in my education has been paid back many times over by the taxes I have paid over the past 31 years of my being a clinical psychologist and rabbi. So don’t talk to me about how cutting programs that truly help people who are struggling cuts taxes. To truly cut taxes and help people who are struggling with their circumstances or the accident of their birth we are going to have to be sensible about the investments in people that we make. And here I am–a proud and grateful beneficiary of a far-sighted government program that actually invested in people.
I am acutely aware that my election to congress is, of course, not just about me. In January 2009, when I am sworn in as a congressman from my district, I will proudly join a very small but (hopefully) growing list of individuals with disabilities–from Max Cleland of Georgia to Thomas Gore of Oklahoma–who have served their country in the U.S. Congress. I promise to take this responsibility to represent, not only my district, but also all people with disabilities with great humility and seriousness.