VALRICO – During the National Federation of the Blind’s Meet the Blind Month, Jeannie Rossi of Valrico was eager to talk about her son Dan Rossi.
“He’s the most remarkable person we know,” she said.
Dan, 46, lost one eye to retinoblastoma cancer just before his third birthday; he lost the second at age 7.
His parents, Brandon Lions Club members Al and Jeannie Rossi, treated him the same as Robert, his older, sighted brother.
“He got away with nothing,” Jeannie said.
Dan did some funny things, like taping his ocular prosthesis to the outside of the lenses of his sunglasses at Halloween when kids came trick-or-treating.
“Growing up, it was just part of my life. Kids adapt to anything,” Dan said. “As far back as I can remember I was in and out of the hospital for surgeries, treatments and checkups. When I lost my second eye, I knew months ahead of time it was going to happen. As a kid, you just go with it.”
He said, “Overall, having lost my sight as a child is easier than losing it as an adult. I got to grow into it, went to school and got a job. When you lose your sight in your thirties, you probably will lose your job, lose your ability to drive — many things are taken away from you.”
Dan’s early schooling included learning Braille and mobility training five days a week. He graduated from high school on Long Island and from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering.
“Having had sight for seven years was pretty useful,” he said. “I’m sure there are blind people who can prove me wrong, but I think I would have had a lot of difficulty getting my mechanical engineering degree had I not had sight for those early years, because I’m able to visualize things pretty well.”
Dan works as a senior Oracle database administrator at Carnegie Mellon. Seven years ago he married Teresa Brosenitsch; they have a 3-year-old daughter, Sofia.
Dan has designed a kitchen remodel, built a second-story deck, put down a floor and takes care of his daughter when his wife travels for business.
Also, he has climbed to 20,000 feet on Mount Everest, summited Mount Kilimanjaro and climbed Machu Picchu. He’s a licensed parachutist with more than 300 jumps.
“Any student skydiver, sighted or not, uses radios,” Dan said. “There’s a person on the ground talking them down, telling them which way to turn and when to prepare to land. I just did this for all my jumps.”
Screen readers that change text to speech and Braille have been the most important technological inventions in his lifetime.
“This led to a huge leap in independence for blind people,” he said. “I make my livelihood using a computer, and the whole online revolution is just amazing! Years ago, someone had to read me my bills. Now I can do all my banking independently. I can pay my bills, read a newspaper, read local and world news. It’s amazing to me to have that kind of access to that much information.
“When shopping – Christmas shopping – I had to drag someone to the store with me. I couldn’t browse; I had to be looking for something specific,” he said. “Now I can go on Amazon and browse, window shop – this is a revolution for blind people.”
His advice to others: “Never say never. ... Blind people can do anything.”
“It’s great to show a blind guy skydiving or mountain climbing, but that’s so out of touch that people don’t apply that to general life – sighted people still wonder how he finds his mouth when eating,” he said.
But “when you show a blind person doing average things, getting on a bus, going to work, it annoys a lot of blind people. They ask, ‘Why is this guy being highlighted? What’s so special about that?’” he said.
He wants the sighted community to know that blindness is a major inconvenience, but it doesn’t prevent people from living a full life.
Recently Dan went to a conference for blind woodworkers. One man there had been a professional woodworker, but after losing his sight, he figured he’d never use his tools again.
“Someone encouraged him, and now he’s teaching other blind people how to work with wood,” said Dan Rossi. “There isn’t anything a blind person can’t do!”
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