By Daniel J. Vance


  It's a delight hearing Dr. Roy Grizzard's engaging Virginia accent and down-to-earth stories.

  Grizzard is Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in Washington D.C. The Senate confirmed him July 2002 as the first Assistant Secretary for disability issues in the nation's history. And he has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an inherited eye disease that causes degeneration of rod and cone cells, which leads to severe peripheral vision loss.

  "I was recruited to play baseball for Virginia Commonwealth University in the mid-'60s," he said. "Keep in mind that back then the ability to diagnose retinitis pigmentosa wasn't as sophisticated as it is today. While batting I was having trouble picking up the flight of the ball, and didn't know why. Later in college I also experienced night vision problems."

  RP has often been called "tunnel vision," and it strikes children and young adults. By age 40 most persons with it are legally blind. The Foundation Fighting Blindness says one proven treatment is 15,000 I.U. of Vitamin A taken daily to "moderately slow" its progression. It is a genetic disorder only and therefore isn't caused by infection or injury.

  Grizzard said, "I'm known as a 'high partial.' I'm legally blind, but have a high level of residual vision, about a 10-degree field. Within that field I see roughly 20/40 with corrected vision." He noted that only about 30 percent of legally blind persons are completely blind.

  As his vision slowly deteriorated Grizzard had to make adjustments, the toughest coming from the loss of his driver's license 20 years ago at age 38. Over the last ten years to some extent his vision has stabilized, thanks in part to cataract and ocular implant surgeries. The vision of most persons with RP deteriorates over years; yet some people become legally blind in months. So it's unpredictable.

  Dr. Grizzard works hard. As Assistant Secretary of Labor he provides the Bush Administration with leadership to increase employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities. He also advises Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Before joining the Dept. of Labor, he served as Commissioner for the Virginia Dept. for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

  The Dept. of Labor has designated October as "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." I have a hunch that Roy would love you to visit his website at www.dol.gov/odep to learn more.

  For retinitis pigmentosa information see www.blindness.org or www.danieljvance.com.