12/01/2022 01:19 AM By Lisa Anderson
Tony DeLisle
Tony DeLisle
Story by Cierra Ross • Photo by Joshua Jacobs


Legally Blind Father Focuses on What He Can Control

“Access, to me, is more about my attitude and the attitudes of other people,” Tony DeLisle says. He believes there is a distinction between tangible and intangible access. Intangible is about attitude, which are beliefs people have. “Intangibles that I can control [personal fear, anxiety, stress, or vulnerability] and [the] things that I can focus on [for] improving access.” Everyone can learn and grow.

Tony was born on August 4, 1969 in Daytona Beach, Florida and was eventually diagnosed with macular degeneration. Due to his young age and with no family history of vision impairments, doctors were puzzled. Regardless, it has not prevented him from living a full life. He lived in Colorado and Rhode Island before returning to Florida.

“I wasn’t legally blind at birth…I was able to drive from like 16 to 24 [years old],” Tony recalls. Macular degeneration didn’t take his eyesight overnight; rather, it progressively decreased his vision over time. Soon, he was putting books up to his nose to see the words, which led to him accepting his decreased vision and using necessary magnification to read.

One difficult challenge Tony faced was getting his license taken because of his decreased vision. “When I lost my license, that impacted my independent living. It significantly impacted my mobility. It’s not easy, and it has affected my choices of where I live.” It also negatively impacted his self-image. “I felt devalued in my self-worth. What can I do to contribute? That was just tough.” Along with this painful loss, Tony realized he had to make a career shift.

Finding More

Tony was a scholarship swimmer for the athletic department of the University of Florida and chose to coach swimming. When he moved to Colorado, he was coaching high performance athletics. “It got to the point to where I didn’t have the visual acuity to be able to coach effectively, and technique is very important,” Tony recalls. He was a certified teacher, as well, from K-12, which also became problematic when his limited eyesight prevented him from seeing students’ work. Soon, he realized that a career change was necessary. “Public health was always something that I was very interested in.”

Tony found himself in Gainesville, Florida, pursuing his PhD in Health and Human Performance. Connecting with his university’s disability resource center provided him the opportunity to learn about different assistive technologies and software. The adaptive technologies were pivotal, yet even with the increased access, it still prolonged the time Tony needed to complete his work. “The amount of time it would take somebody to do something for [one hour], it would take me three to five hours,” he explains. Though technology provided greater access, Tony still had to be strategic when he studied. “I couldn’t get through everything in the way that other people could. I had to really be strategic; [it] was a challenge.”

Even today, with Tony’s work at the Center for Independent Living, he finds himself putting in more hours to get his work completed. “I [have to] work harder and smarter.” He confronts all these challenges with a willingness to learn. “Challenges are good.” Each challenge has taught Tony something new. These opportunities of growth have encouraged him to be vulnerable and honest about his needs.

Everyday Life

“I have wonderful children, but being limited in my abilities to see can affect [my] abilities to do certain things,” Tony states. “Maybe their shirts are on backwards and inside out. Sometimes, [there are] difficulties: if there [are] toys on the ground that especially don’t have a lot of color contrast, I’ll be stubbing my toes.” Moving objects or other things around in his house can be hazardous for someone with limited sight.

Tony notes that being blind and wanting to be seen and treated as an equal can be paradoxical. “I don’t wanna be seen as being different and stand out, but at the same time it would be nice [if] people did kind of understand.” Many people don’t consider the need for alternative formats or needing a little more time to check out of the grocery store, because someone like Tony may need the cashier to read the screen.

“Patience, you know, is a good thing,” declares Tony. “We live in such a fast society and going [so] quickly that sometimes...patience is a big one.” Patience to see and respect each other’s differences and different needs is pivotal for opening the doorway to access.

A New Perspective

“Another challenge is [when] out in public, you’re making eye contact with people–I don’t do it anymore. I don’t even look at people, now, in the eye because I can’t tell if they’re looking back at me, and I don’t want them to misinterpret that,” Tony says.

“I do believe [that] those…challenges have led to me having to learn more about who I am. It’s allowing me the opportunity to be more self-aware,” states Tony. Though his eyesight forces him to take more time to complete his work, it encourages him to be vulnerable with others about his need for alternative formats or assistance reading. He notes that these aspects have “allowed me the opportunity to practice courage, and fear allows me the opportunity to have gratitude. I’m not totally blind. I can still see colors and sunsets.” He is grateful for those privileges.
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