Albany, N.Y. — As a young man, David Paterson never looked for dropped change because he didn't want people to see a blind man crawling on the floor for nickels and dimes. He didn't use a white cane, either: It would make him a target in his New York City neighborhood.
But now he's 54, and in a dizzying rush of events just two months ago, David Paterson became governor of New York. His blindness became national news.
"The concentration that I have had to engage to make this adjustment sometimes feels overwhelming," Paterson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
In his first extensive comments about his disability, Paterson, who took the job March 17, also speaks with pride about how his unlikely ascension has taught him to embrace his disability and may help others be more comfortable with theirs. He rose from the lieutenant governor's office when Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal.
Paterson lost sight in his left eye and much of the sight in his right because of an infection as an infant. He can see shapes, and usually recognizes people as they approach, but he can read for just a few minutes at a time and must hold text close to his face.
Another New York governor, fellow Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once hid his polio by using secret doors and hallways in the Capitol. But Paterson is up front about being legally blind.
When he was a state senator, it was almost imperceptible. He couldn't rely on teleprompters for speeches, so he memorized them.
"He and I would often debate each other on the floor of the Senate and his ability for recall, and for not using Braille or notes, was always astonishing to me," said Sen. Thomas Libous, an upstate Republican from Broome County. "You didn't even know he was disabled."
Memorizing speeches became harder when he became lieutenant governor and had to deliver two or three addresses a week. As governor, he does two or three every day.
He can't read voluminous reports, can't immediately recognize the dozens of top aides he inherited, can't even watch a teleconference.
Two weeks ago, his new job forced him to decide whether to confront his disability as never before.
At a news conference, with cameras clicking away, he hunched over with his nose practically touching a bill as he searched for the line where he would sign his name. The photo took up much of a page in the next day's edition of The New York Times.
"A number of people were actually upset that I was exposed that way by the picture," Paterson said. "But I felt very good about the picture because when I was younger, if I dropped change, I would never pick it up. I wouldn't even attempt to because I had a problem with people watching me crawling on the floor, looking for change.
"Only in the last few years of my life am I comfortable having people see me display that I have a disability," said the lawyer from Harlem.