For Allan Peterson, the world around him has long been dark, but he’s working to brighten it for those like him.
Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive degenerative eye disease, soon after he joined North Dakota State’s veterinary science faculty in 1977, Peterson lost his sight over 10 years.
“My retina doesn’t work and so I don’t see,” he said. “I don’t see at all at this point. I’ve lost all my sight.”
Despite his disability, he continues to serve the NDSU campus and others living with disabilities through his work with various organizations.
“I enjoy life. I enjoy a challenge,” he said. “I’ve certainly been presented with one.”
Trained as a veterinarian, Peterson attended the University of Minnesota’s school of veterinary medicine before his post-doctoral work in veterinary microbiology and pathology at NDSU.
His advocacy work is just as extensive.
“I work a number of projects that help people with disabilities,” he said.
Peterson has served as a board member for Handi-Wheels Transportation, a nonprofit providing transportation to North Dakota Medicaid customers.
He’s also a longtime board member of the North Dakota Association of the Blind where he served as financial chair for five years and board president for four years.
That’s not his only board membership either; he’s on his second term as board member for the American Council of the Blind where he’s served for five and a half years.
He’s also a board chair for NDSU’s Lutheran Center.
His numerous projects are all geared toward helping those living with disabilities or who have lost their sight like him.
“I like to see achievement,” Peterson said. “I like to see things happen, the cause of people with disabilities advanced.”
Peterson found his independence following his loss of sight by finding new ways to interact in his environment.
He learned how to use a cane to walk and a computer to communicate using speech.
“I learned my way around campus without the advantage of sight,” Peterson said. “I rely on my computer and rely on my cane and my other senses.”
He added he can get disoriented due to noise or construction and can get confused if someone tries to lend a helping hand.
“A lot of students don’t know how they can help,” Peterson said, adding with a laugh, “Often a student will open a door for me and I don’t know it’s open. They don’t say anything and that can be a bit of a challenge.”
Peterson added he does appreciate people asking how they can help him rather than assuming they know what to do or grab him.
At 71, Peterson said he is past retirement age. He and his wife Judy, a retail outlet employee, live in Fargo and have three children, Lisa, Neil and Kurt, all NDSU graduates who live in Oregon and Minnesota.
And the NDSU campus is what Peterson calls home.
“I like the college environment,” he said. “I like my contact with faculty, staff and students. … This has become my life that I enjoy doing.”