Blind from birth, Chris Danielson is director of public relations for the 50,000-member National Federation of the Blind, based in Baltimore, the nation’s oldest and largest organization led by blind people.
In a telephone interview, 44-year-old Danielson said, “I grew up an Army brat. We never lived abroad because my parents wanted to make sure I had the best educational opportunities. My dad asked the Army for compassionate treatment because he had what the military called a child with special needs. So he was never posted on foreign soil.”
As for his blindness, Danielson said, “Doctors aren’t exactly sure what I had at birth. Basically, my eyes did not fully develop in utero. I see only a little artificial light now. I can walk into my office and forget to turn the lights on and not realize it for several hours. I believe I can detect sunlight but am not sure.”
The Danielsons settled in South Carolina, where Chris’ parents were determined to give him a “normal” life. Teachers at his first school said Chris would do better at a residential school for the blind, but his parents strongly disagreed. Instead, his parents worked hard to integrate their son into public school. They even queried school districts to learn which ones had experience and success with blind students. He began learning Braille in kindergarten.
He said, “And my parents never kept me from doing things. If my friends were going roller skating, for example, then I was also going roller skating.”
The summer after seventh grade, and during an emotional rough patch due to being the only blind student at school, he attended a camp with other blind children. For the first time, he felt socially connected with others having the same issues and experiences.
His parents’ emphasis on Chris getting a good education and having a “normal” life seemed to pay off. Danielson graduated with a political science degree from Furman University. While there, he had won a national scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind. In law school, he was a law clerk at a large firm, and also for the South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee. After law school, he started his own private practice, where he did family law, personal injury, and some low-level criminal defense.