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My Journey with Retinitis Pigmentosa – and the Guide Dog that Saved Me from Myself

Chad Bouton felt his retinitis pigmentosa had dragged him into darkness until a guide dog - and related career opportunity - brought him back to life.

Chad, wearing a t-shirt with the word

I was only eleven years old when I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). All I can remember about the day the doctor called to tell my parents that both their children had an incurable eye disease that would slowly rob them of their precious sight are the sounds of my mother’s sobs.

I wore glasses at the time and knew I didn’t have perfect vision, but – fortunately for me – I couldn’t fathom what awaited me. The next year in school, I would slowly get a glimpse into what my world would be like.

I started being pulled out of classes to learn how to use a cane and how to read and write braille. I never complained, but oh how I hated being forced to learn these things. I did not want to learn how to be blind. I wanted to play games and play sports. The worse my eyesight got, the more I believed I was some kind of freak. I pulled away from people and became a recluse. I was angry and depressed and my anxiety was on overload.

Dragged into a dark place

I left home for college in 2011 and continued to be reclusive, never feeling like I fit in. It was hard to navigate the campus with my cane. Classwork was hard to keep up with. My sight continued to decline and finally it all engulfed me and drug me into the darkness where I began thinking it would be best if I just died.

My pivotal moment came after falling down a flight of stairs one evening after my biology lab. As I lied there face down, I knew it was time to take control and that I needed more than a cane.

Coming back to life

I had recently met a woman and her guide dog Flo and I decided this was exactly the help I needed. In May of 2014, I spent my summer break at Southeastern Guide Dogs getting my first guide dog, Andros. I credit both Southeastern Guide Dogs and Andros for saving my life.

Not only did they help me regain my independence, they helped me gain confidence. Thanks to Andros, I found the strength to return to college. On a complete leap of faith, I reached out to Southeastern Guide Dogs once more, but this time for employment. Not only did they offer me a job, they offered me the ability to build a life for myself.

In December of 2018, I packed up everything I owned and moved to Bradenton, Florida. On January 2, 2019, I started my new life as the Welcome Desk Coordinator. From 2019 until June of 2021, I had the pleasure of helping transform the lives of my fellow blind brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, my time with Southeastern Guide Dogs came to an abrupt end due to the COVID19 pandemic. I am thankful for my time there because it made me realize that my purpose in life is to help advocate for blind equality.

Growing, thriving and setting new goals

Currently, I work as a freelance journalist covering topics about blind interest. My goal for 2022 is to record videos for my own vlog channel to help raise awareness and further the discussion on blind equality.

From the blind kid who thought he would be better off dead, to the blind adult who now uses his disability to inspire change, the journey has been long and hard, but I have finally found the blind new world I wish to live in.

About the Author

Chad Bouton is a driven advocate for those with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). He is professionally trained in speaking to audiences on the impacts of RP, how to positively live with RP, and the sensational value that guide dogs (Andros, pictured is Chad’s guide dog) provide to their handler.

Chad continues to increase his influence through evaluation of technologies, gaming platforms, and games where he assesses products for accessibility options, inclusion, ease of use, and resulting recommendations to the vendors for changes they could make to allow those with disabilities to enjoy their passion. His goal: provide an environment where those with progressive disabilities like RP can continue to enjoy the things they love, even after progressing to a point where those activities would typically be difficult to impossible.

To connect with Chad, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at @DBKai_Gaming.

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