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Originally published March 28, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified March 29, 2011 at 9:57 AM

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Northwest Wanderings: A special way of seeing the world

Stairs are the most dangerous obstacle in Western Washington University professor Dave Engebretson's life. Born legally blind 63 years ago, he adapted to the sighted world — and continued to adapt after a progressive eye disease took almost all of his remaining sight.

Seattle Times staff photographer

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20th in an occasional series

Stairs are the most dangerous obstacle in professor Dave Engebretson's life.

Born legally blind 63 years ago, he learned early in life not to use that as an excuse for anything. He never says "can't."

"My mother would say, 'Can't never did nothing.' "

So he adapted to the sighted world, getting his undergraduate degree at Western Washington University and his master's degree and doctorate at Stanford by using an 8-power monocular to see the blackboard.

"The math part was hard, especially seeing the little symbols."

Never having learned Braille, he "learned by listening" and became a professor of geology.

He developed good penmanship and, with a teaching assistant, projects graphs, charts and things he's written, though he can't see what he's put down on paper.

He learned to sail.

He did some demolition-derby racing in his 20s. A spirited — though illegal — driver; the others knew to stay away from "Fearless Dave."

Fifteen years ago, a progressive eye disease took away almost all of Engebretson's remaining sight.

The two things he most misses seeing are "the light on the water at night" and "looking at my beautiful wife."

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But, he says, he's again learned to adapt, getting his first guide dog, Fritz, eight years ago.

"I've spent so much time adjusting to the sighted world; now, I'll just be blind."

Alan Berner: aberner@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-8133

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